Russia halted all adoptions by US citizens yesterday following a week of anger over the case of a young boy who was sent home alone on a one-way flight to Moscow by his adoptive mother.
Artyom Savelyev, who celebrates his eighth birthday today, was dispatched by his Tennessee-based adoptive mother with a note complaining about his violent behaviour and asking to have the adoption annulled.
The episode – described as a "monstrous deed" by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev – caused outrage in Russia, which has long called for a bilateral agreement with the US to regulate adoptions. "The future adoption of Russian children by American families, which has been halted, will only be possible if such an agreement is reached," said Andrei Nesterenko, a Russian foreign ministry spokesman.
Mr Medvedev said an agreement should firmly set out the duties of adoptive parents, and create a system to monitor the treatment of adopted children. A US delegation is expected in Moscow in the next few days to begin negotiations on such a deal.
Nearly 1,600 Russian children were adopted by US citizens last year, according to the US State Department, down from a peak of around 5,900 in 2004.
The numbers fell after Russia tightened adoption criteria following a series of highly publicised cases where Russian children died at the hands of abusive American parents.
There are currently around 3,000 adoption applications from US citizens pending, all of which will now be put on hold until an agreement between the two nations is signed.
The boy at the centre of the controversy is now in a Moscow clinic, according to Russian officials, and will probably be adopted by a Russian family. A relative of the boy's biological mother told a television talk show this week that his extended family was willing to take the child back into its care.
His biological mother was stripped of parenting rights for reasons that have not come to light, and is currently listed as missing, according to the television channel.
The boy was adopted by Torry Hansen of Tennessee six months ago, and was known to his American relatives as Justin Hansen.
Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper published an alleged email exchange between Savelyev's adopted grandmother, Nancy Hansen, and 38-year-old Artur Lukyanov, a driver and guide based in Moscow whom Ms Hansen had found online.
Ms Hansen explained she needed someone to meet a young boy at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport and take him to the Russian education ministry. She sent the boy with two envelopes – one for Mr Lukyanov containing $200, and the other to be delivered along with the boy to the ministry.
The second envelope contained a note signed by Torry Hansen, who wrote that the boy is "mentally unstable" and asked to have the adoption annulled.
Mr Lukyanov says he did not know that the boy had been adopted until he was detained and questioned on arrival at the ministry. "Nancy Hansen used me. She didn't give me all the information. I had no idea that the boy was adopted and was being returned," said the driver. Torry Hansen has refused to speak to the media, and has not been charged with any crime.
Alina Levitskaya, of the Russian education ministry, said doctors had examined the boy and had found none of the behavioural problems that Ms Hansen had complained about.