In December Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a measure banning the adoption of Russian children to American families. The move was widely considered, and tacitly acknowledged as, a retaliation against a new U.S. law targeting accused Russian human rights abusers. Russian officials portrayed it somewhat differently, however, as a way of making things fairer for native adoptive families and as a necessary and a humane response to the 19 children (out of 60,000 adoptions) who had died as a result of neglect or abuse.
Now, less than two months after the law went into effect on January 1, the Russian government is using the death of a 3-year-old Texas boy as artillery in its argument against allowing U.S. adoptions.
"A three-year-old Russian child has been murdered by his adoptive mother in the state of Texas," Pavel Astakhov, the Kremlin's envoy for children, wrote on Twitter, according to Russian media reports, which stated that the boy, identified as Maksim Kuzmin, had been severely beaten and fed Risperdal, an anti-psychotic, before dying on January 21.
Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian Foreign Ministry's special representative for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, called it "yet another case of inhuman torture of a Russian child adopted by US parents," according to Agence France-Presse.
"We are forced to declare that the US State Department -- unlike the authorities of Ector [C]ounty -- did not help our consulate representatives in finding out the causes of a new fatal incident with a Russian child in the United States."
And what of the authorities in Ector County?
"The child was sent for autopsy. No arrest made, this is an ongoing investigation," sheriff's department spokesman Gary Duesler wrote in an email this afternoon. "Waiting on results of autopsy."
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Texas Department of Family and Protective Services spokesman Patrick Crimmins says in an email that the agency is also investigating the death of the child, whom he identified as 3-year-old Max Shatto.
"In this particular case, the allegations reported to CPS were physical abuse and neglectful supervision, or simply, neglect," he wrote. "At the conclusion of an investigation, CPS will either confirm a finding, rule out a finding, or it will classify it as undetermined. So, there are two allegations in this case, and there will be two findings."
Max's parents, Laura and Alan Shatto, have not returned a message on their home phone seeking comment.
The Russian government seems pretty damn sure it knows what happened, and isn't being shy about telling the world. Or maybe it simply sees a way to score political points. Either way, a dead 3-year-old is now a pawn in an international battle.