MOSCOW (AP) — The Kremlin said Thursday that an adoption deal with the U.S. will remain valid until 2014 despite a new Russian law banning the practice, but it's unclear whether it would keep the door open for more adoptions or allow the completion of adoptions that were under way before the ban was passed.
Last month, President Vladimir Putin signed a law banning Americans from adopting Russian children, part of a harsh response to a U.S. law targeting Russians deemed to be violating human rights.
Although some top Russian officials including the foreign minister openly opposed the bill, Putin signed it into law in less than 24 hours after receiving it from the parliament, which overwhelmingly passed it.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the state RIA Novosti news agency that the adoptions agreement will remain in force until Jan. 1, 2014. Under the agreement, it's valid for a year after one of the parties terminates it, which Russia did on Jan. 1.
Peskov's statement ends the controversy over the length of the agreement's validity. Russian rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov had earlier claimed that the agreement became void on Jan. 1.
The ban on U.S. adoptions has sparked outrage in Russia, where some Kremlin critics compared Putin to King Herod. A protest against the law, expected to draw tens of thousands, is planned in Moscow on Sunday.
Peskov wouldn't specify whether the fact that the agreement will remain valid for another year would allow more adoptions to go ahead. Neither would he comment on whether more than 50 Russian children, who were preparing to join their new families in the U.S. when the ban on adoptions was passed, would be allowed to leave the country.
Russian and U.S. diplomats have been in intense talks over the issue.
"We are very hopeful that we will be able to complete the cases of adoption that had been begun before the law was passed. So that's something that we will be working on with the Russian government," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Thursday.
She said that in response to the State Department's request for information from American families who were trying to adopt, it had received e-mails from some 950 people and was evaluating where each party stood in the process.
Nuland added that U.S. officials would prefer not to get into specifics because "we want to see as many children be able to have the future that we'd like for them as possible, and we don't want to be putting people in different categories." She also said there are privacy concerns with regard to both the Americans and the children.
In one case that received wide publicity in Russia, some media reported that 14-year-old Maxim Kargopoltsev, who has long hoped that he would be adopted by a U.S. couple, has written a letter to Putin asking him for permission to join his new parents.
In an apparent media counteroffensive, Russian state television and RIA Novosti on Thursday interviewed the boy, who said he hadn't written such a letter and would like to stay in Russia. The state TV also interviewed a parliament member claiming he wants to take care of the boy, whom he took shopping for a new cell phone and notebook.
However, on his Facebook page, the boy identifies a couple from Woodstock, Virginia, as his parents and takes their last name. There are photos of them together.
According to U.N. estimates, there are about 740,000 children not in parental custody in Russia, while only 18,000 Russians are now waiting to adopt a child. Russian officials claim that they want to encourage more Russians to adopt Russian orphans.
Associated Press writers Lynn Berry in Moscow and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.