Some U.S. couples hoping to adopt children from Russia are concerned that rising political tensions between the two countries could add further delays to their bids to become parents.
"We’re getting kicked when we’re down," said Kathleen Dorrian, a 41-year-old New York City police officer, who started the process to adopt a child from Russia with her husband, Joseph, 48, in October 2005.
Under new laws Moscow officials say are a step toward limiting the number of children leaving Russia, U.S. agencies that arrange adoptions must seek re-accreditation in Russia in a slow process involving five Russian ministries. For the moment, no U.S. adoption agencies are accredited to organize adoptions in Russia, and Moscow has given no indication of how long the re-accreditation process will take.
"From the beginning everybody was very honest that things aren’t that great in Russia, but just stick with it," Dorrian said. "I think they want to keep these children in the country, to me I think that has a lot to do with it."
The tightening of Russia’s adoption process had long been demanded by nationalist lawmakers shocked by a series of well-publicized murders of Russian children abroad. According to reports in U.S. newspapers, 14 Russian children have been killed by their adopted American parent since the 1990s.
Some U.S. agencies, parents and experts have raised concerns that the accreditation process could become caught up in a rise in political tensions between U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"(Adoption is) seen as a fraught issue for Russians in general, which is therefore going to be particularly sensitive to changes in U.S.-Russia relations," said Cathy Nepomnyashchy, director of the Harriman Institute of Russian, Eurasian and Eastern European studies at Columbia University in New York.
Relations between Washington and Moscow have hit a new low over a U.S. plan to protect itself and European allies from what Washington thinks is a growing ballistic missile threat in part by building a shield in Central Europe. Moscow fears the United States could convert it for use against Russia
Dale Herspring, a political science professor and Russian expert at Kansas State University, said he had no doubt that the mood in the Kremlin has a "trickle down" effect.
"That does not mean that Putin gave an order to slow down or create problems when it comes to adoptions," he said. "If U.S.-Russian relations are bad, this means that those bureaucrats who don’t want to see Russian children leave the country, have a stronger position to resist adoptions."
About half the 15,000 children adopted annually in Russia go abroad. U.S. State Department data shows that 3,706 Russian children were adopted by U.S. families in 2006, down from a high of 5,836 in 2002. Russia is the third most popular country for U.S. international adoptions behind Guatemala and China.
The tens of thousands of children available for adoption in Russia often live in poorly funded orphanages. Activists say as many as 2 million other orphans may live without state help.
"There’s a lot of Russian children leaving Russia at a time when there is a demographic crisis and that becomes a flashpoint for fears about where Russia’s going," said Nepomnyashchy, who adopted a Russian daughter six years ago with her Russian husband.
The population of the world’s largest country by land mass — 142 million — is falling by around 700,000 people a year.
"We are a little piece in a much bigger geopolitical interaction," said Judy Stigger, director of international adoptions at Illinois-based agency The Cradle. "So it makes sense that there’s concern."
The U.S. State Department said in a statement it had been "actively encouraging the Russian government to complete its reviews and proceed with appropriate accreditations or re-accreditations as expeditiously as possible."
Officials at the Russian Embassy in Washington were not immediately available for comment on the adoption issue.
"There are people on both sides of the government who are very happy for this to happen and truly the officials on the ground and the embassy were very happy for us," said Simon Alexander, 38, a New York photographer who adopted 16-month-old Jack from Russia last month with his wife Leslie.
"But in a greater sense politically it’s a football that people are kicking around."