WASHINGTON — Sen. Mary Landrieu led a meeting of senators Wednesday with the Russian ambassador to the United States to press for an end to the new ban on Americans adopting Russian orphans.
Sergey Kislyak, the Russian Federation ambassador to the U.S., said in brief comments after the closed meeting that the senators’ concerns will be conveyed to the capital, but that the law is still the law and the ban remains in place.
Landrieu, who took the lead with Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said the most pressing issue is trying to finalize the roughly 500 pending adoptions in which American families were already matched with and met the orphans they planned to adopt. Those adoptions are currently stalled and potentially severed.
“There is an immediate bond that occurs on the part of the parents seeking to adopt and the adoptive child, many of whom are old enough to know what is going on and have been told and seen and met parents,” said Landrieu, D-La. “And they have been waiting, some of them — two, three years — only to have this law, in my view, passed without due consideration of the humanity of this issue.”
“The second issue is how to fix this in the long run,” Landrieu added, noting that the Russian government has some concerns regarding information and transparency. “I am committed to work with them in the long run to see what we can do to reestablish relations.”
The new ban, which went into effect Jan. 1, has “virtually stopped all Russian adoptions that were in progress,” Landrieu said. The only handful of adoptions moving forward are the few in which the last court date to finalize the adoption was already scheduled, Blunt said.
Landrieu co-chairs the Senate Caucus on Foster Youth and the Congressional Coalition on Adoption and has made such causes among her top priorities. Landrieu has two adopted children.
During the past 20 years, American families have adopted more than 60,000 Russian children. About 1,500 cases of adoption by U.S. families are in Russian courts.
The Russian ban signed into law by President Vladimir Putin was widely seen as political retaliation for the Sergei Magnitsky Act passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama last month, which imposed sanctions on Russian officials involved in the death of an imprisoned lawyer in 2009 after he blew the whistle on a multimillion-dollar tax refund scam.
“We have certainly a situation that affects a number of families in this country, but it didn’t appear from nowhere,” Kislyak said. “And it’s because of concerns that were prevailing in Russia about the fate of a number of kids that had been adopted here in the United States, and we had problems even identifying the fate.”
“I reassured them (the senators) that everything that was said to us will be conveyed to the capital,” Kislyak added. “But at the same time we live in an environment of the law — that the law decides …”
Kislyak participated with his embassy’s senior legal counselor, Sergey Chumarev, who helped piece together the U.S.-Russian adoption agreement that went into place two years ago. The agreement, however, is rendered moot while the adoptions are banned.
Along with the controversial ban, Putin also signed a decree providing financial perks and other measures to encourage adoptions inside Russia, which have never run higher than 7,000 annually in recent years. There are more than 600,000 orphans in Russia.
Sen. Blunt said he appreciated the “frank discussion, as well as a sensitive discussion about the families involved in Russian adoptions.”
“This is all about what happens with these kids and getting them in the best possible situation that makes them part of a family,” Blunt said. “If that’s a Russian family, that’s great. And we wish the Russians well in that renewed effort to create more adoptions in Russian families.”
But Blunt said the senators are particularly asking the Russian government to “look at whatever is possible” to just move forward the adoptions that were already pending, whether that is through judicial rulings or a “modification of the law.”