MOSCOW, February 19 (RIA Novosti) – Russia’s parliament observed a minute of silence on Tuesday in honor of a three-year-old Russian boy who officials in Moscow say was killed by his US adoptive mother, although the investigation into his death is yet to be concluded.
“I would like to observe a minute of silence in memory of a small Russian boy, Maxim Kuzmin, who was brutally killed,” said Olga Batalina, deputy head of a State Duma committee on family, women and children’s welfare. “This tragedy concerns all of us.”
Batalina later said Russia would demand the return of the dead boy’s two-year-old brother.
Russia’s child rights ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov, on Monday accused a Texas woman of killing the boy. “An adoptive mother has killed a three-year-old Russian child in the state of Texas. The murder occurred at the end of January,” Astakhov tweeted.
“The boy died before an ambulance called by his mother arrived. According to a report by medical examiners, the boy had numerous injuries,” he went on, adding the child had been given powerful “psychotropic substances” and badly beaten before his death, which reportedly occurred on January 21.
Bone of Contention
Russia's Foreign Ministry said the US State Department had failed to assist Russian consulate officials in the United States in finding out more about the case.
The US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, was summoned to the State Duma on Tuesday to discuss the issue.
Russia's Investigative Commitee said those responsible for Kuzmin's death would face a "harsh" punishment.
The issue of US adoptions of Russian children has become highly politicized in the past several months. Late last year, the Russian parliament passed a hurried ban on adoptions by US nationals on the heels of a new US law known as the Magnitsky Act, which introduced US financial and travel restrictions on Russian officials deemed by the United States to have violated human rights.
Russian officials have issued apparently contradictory statements on the motivation for the ban, with President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, saying in late January that the Magnitsky Act was “a trigger” for the law, while other officials have said it was inspired by concern for the welfare of adoptees and dissatisfaction over US authorities’ handling of cases of abuse and deaths.
According to US State Department figures, more than 60,000 Russian children have been adopted by Americans over the past two decades. Of those, Russian officials say 19 were killed through the actions of their American parents.
News Coverage and Public Opinion
Kuzmin's death has been among the lead items on Russian state television since the news broke on Monday, with dramatic reports stating conclusively that the boy was “killed.”
Astakhov gave an interview on the case Tuesday evening to the Russia 24 channel, sitting in front of a large screen depicting a distressed child, hands pressed to his eyes, against the backdrop of an American flag.
Three opinion polls published in December and January indicated that between one-half and three-quarters of Russians support the US adoption ban, findings that contrasted sharply with earlier polls that showed much less opposition to US adoptions.
But the law has also provoked fierce criticism, with even some government figures speaking out against it. In January, a protest march against the ban in central Moscow drew some 50,000 people, according to organizers.
“Even if it turns out the child was killed, this in no way justifies a ban on US adoptions,” Nadezhda Mityushkina, one of the organizers of the rally, told RIA Novosti on Tuesday.
“This is a very complicated issue, and we should not take such a harsh position,” she added, pointing out that Russia also had its own very serious problems with child murders.
“But I would like to see the results of the investigation,” she added. “It’s possible that the medicine that was mentioned was given to the child because he was unhealthy and that his death was a tragic accident. I would not want to accuse or defend anyone at this point.”
Investigation and Blame
But the head of the State Duma’s committee on foreign affairs, Alexei Pushkov, said Tuesday that Kuzmin’s death meant the issue of the adoption ban was “closed.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry's plenipotentiary for human rights, Konstantin Dolgov, identified the US family in question by the surname Shatto.
A spokesperson for Texas Child Protective Services (CPS) confirmed in an interview with RIA Novosti on Monday that CPS is investigating the death of Max Shatto, 3, adding that law enforcement officials from the Ector County Sheriff's Department, in Odessa, Texas, are also investigating, which means the process may take longer than the typical 30 days.
“In this particular case, the allegations reported to CPS were physical abuse and neglectful supervision, or simply, neglect,” the official said.
In a coincidence likely to add fuel to the dispute, Kuzmin/Shatto was reported on Tuesday to have been adopted from the same orphanage in western Russia as Dmitry Yakovlev, the toddler whose name was affixed to the Russian law introducing the adoption ban. Yakovlev died in the US state of Virginia in July 2008 after his adoptive father left him for hours in a parked, overheated car.
Updated with new headline.