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Limits of Russia Adoption Ban Unclear, Causing Anxiety for US Families

ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- Overlapping and often contradictory statements from various Russian officials over the past week have failed to provide much clarity about how Russia plans to implement its new ban on adoptions to the United States.

Instead the confusion has frustrated American families anxious to know if any final adoptions will be allowed to proceed. It has also left the impression that top Russian officials disagree on how to enforce a controversial ban that was rushed into law.

Specifically, the latest statements have left unclear the fate of 52 Russian orphans whose adoptions remain in legal purgatory.

Their cases were nearly complete when the ban went into effect on Jan. 1, but officials have yet to define where they will draw the line on adoptions, particularly 46 of them that had received court approval but were in the midst of a 30-day waiting period before the children would be allowed to leave the country.

On Wednesday, Russia’s Children’s Rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhav said all 52 will remain in Russia, but the next day Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said some of them would be allowed to leave the country, without saying how many or which ones.

On Friday, however, Astakhav changed his tune. He told the Interfax news agency that “children for whom there were court rulings will leave.”

Peskov made similar marks in an interview with a Russian television station, but then made a nebulous comment again raising questions about where the line will be drawn.

“In those cases where certain legal procedures have not been completed, a full ban on adoptions by Americans becomes effective,” he said, according to Interfax.

Peskov also suggested adoption cases could be decided on a case-by-case basis, but didn’t specify what the criteria would be.    

The six cases that had completed the waiting period appear to have the best chance, but none of the statements this week clearly declares what will happen to any of the 52 children.

For American families who expected to bring a child home this month, the back and forth has exacerbated their frustration.

“We are still unclear when they refer to families who have cleared the court process,” Kendra Skaggs told ABC News. She and her husband received court approval on Dec. 24 and were scheduled to bring home 5-year-old Polina, who suffers from spina bifida, later this month.

She says Peskov’s statements have given her hope, but is unsure what to believe.

Desperate for details, many families have reached out to their adoption agencies, contacts in Russia, their local representatives, and the State Department.

On Friday, the State Department held a conference call with many of the families to explain that, despite discussions with Russian officials, they have yet to receive a definitive explanation about which adoptions will be allowed to proceed, and which children will have to remain in Russia.

According to one person on the call, officials who briefed the families also warned that even if the court order and permission to leave the country have been granted, it is unclear whether other elements of the Russian government, like passport agencies or immigration control at the airport, will be willing to allow the children to leave.

Russia’s inability to clearly define the legal limits of the ban may be a product of the rush with which it was introduced.

The ban was added in late December to a bill retaliating for a set of human rights sanctions that President Obama signed into law earlier that month. Within two weeks Russian President Vladimir Putin signed it into law.

The ban was controversial in Russia even before it was signed. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a longtime critic of the United States, urged lawmakers not to approve the measure. A deputy prime minister reportedly suggested the ban would violate Russia’s international treaty obligations. Even Putin was non-committal the first few times he was asked about it at an end of the year press conference.

Some prominent Russians have vocally opposed the ban, saying it plays politics with the lives of children. On Sunday, the country’s opposition plans to march in protest in central Moscow.

Many ordinary Russians have reached out to Kendra Skaggs to offer assistance. Some said they would try to check in on Polina and pass on messages. Others offered a place to stay when Kendra and her husband travel to Moscow. On Friday Skaggs said she still plans to go ahead with her travel plans.

A source of hope for the Skaggs family and many others enduring the excruciating back and forth was dashed on Friday when the Russian lawmaker who proposed an exception to the ban for adoptions of sick and disabled kids abandoned the measure due to lack of support.

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