More than four years after it was imposed, Russia's ban on adoptions by Americans is back in the news, rekindling frustration and sadness among some of those affected by it.
Chuck Johnson, CEO of the National Council for Adoption, worries that any efforts by President Donald Trump's administration to get the ban lifted might now be more complicated because of revelations regarding Donald Trump Jr.
The younger Trump, explaining a meeting last year with a Russian lawyer, initially issued a statement saying the subject was the adoption ban, but later released emails showing his motive was to obtain negative information about Hillary Clinton.
"Because Russia is so much in the news, it's now made lifting the ban even more awkward and difficult," Johnson said. "You'd have Democrats and the hawkish Republicans who would see it as further collusion."
The ban has had "disastrous results" for orphans in Russia, said Johnson, a leading advocate of international adoption.
Signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in December 2012, the ban served as retaliation for a U.S. law targeting alleged Russian human-rights violators. It also reflected resentment over the 60,000 Russian children adopted by Americans in the previous two decades, about 20 of whom died of abuse, neglect or other causes while in the care of their adoptive parents.
Heartache for families
More than 200 U.S. families were in the process of trying to adopt children from Russia when the ban took effect. Many of those children have now been placed in Russian homes; the fate of other children remains unknown to their would-be adoptive families.
That's the case for a Minneapolis-area couple who adopted a boy from Russia in 2008 and were trying to adopt his biological brother, Nikolai, when the ban was imposed.
The wife, Renee Carlson — who is now divorced and remarried — campaigned relentlessly for an exception to be made for her family. She even traveled to Moscow in early 2014 and made an emotional appeal on Russian television, but the second adoption never went through.
In an email this week, Carlson said she was told by some of her Russian contacts that Nikolai may have been adopted in Russia, but that she has been unable to confirm that.
"The Russian people I met with were just like us as Americans, good people, just perhaps had their hands tied by their administration's direction," she wrote. "I respect and understand, as we face similar politics in the U.S."
Resumption of adoptions from Russia has been a goal of the Trump administration, as it had been for the Obama administration. But there was no movement until Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov agreed in April to include the matter in high-level talks aimed at resolving festering conflicts that have hindered cooperation on broader strategic and security issues.
Those talks, between the third-ranking U.S. diplomat, Tom Shannon, and Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, were suspended by Moscow last month after the Treasury Department hit Russia with new sanctions for its actions in Ukraine. But the State Department now says a new round of talks between Shannon and Ryabkov will take place in Washington on Monday.
Estimates of the number of orphans in Russia vary widely, but the country has been trying to place more of the orphans with Russian families through an expansion of domestic adoption.
A U.S.-based organization, Kidsave, has been assisting in those efforts, arranging for hundreds of orphans to visit Russian families during weekends and holidays with the aim of encouraging the families to consider adoption. According to Kidsave, more than 1,000 children in the Smolensk region found homes outside the orphanages or established long-term connections with mentors.
Tatiana Stafford, who oversees Kidsave's Russia program, said the adoption ban was unfortunate but didn't affect the program.
"A lot of families who were in the process of adoption — they suffered, the children suffered," she said. "But at the same time, it gave momentum to domestic adoption."
This will be the last full year of Kidsave's Russia operation. It plans to transfer the program to a Russian nonprofit next year.