Kremlin disputes teen's alleged Putin plea

2013-01-10 18:57
(Picture: AFP)

(Picture: AFP)

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Moscow - A 14-year-old Russian orphan with a debilitating genetic disease has reportedly asked President Vladimir Putin for the right to live with his prospective adoptive family in the US.

But the Kremlin immediately called the reports false and a provocation aimed at discrediting Russia's international reputation and embarrassing Putin.

The letter from a boy named Maxim in the hardscrabble, industrial Urals city of Chelyabinsk came two weeks after Putin signed into law a bill banning all US adoptions.

The measure was given fast-track approval and almost no parliamentary debate in reprisal for new US legislation that targets alleged Russian rights abusers.

But the law also created controversy at home and up to 20 000 people are expected to come out on the streets of central Moscow in protest on Sunday.

Chelyabinsk media said the boy had been in touch with the US family - the Wallens - from the state of Virgina for seven years and that his case was already under court review when Putin signed the ban into law on 28 December.

"I would be very grateful if you come out in favour of children," the website of local Chelyabinsk television quoted Maxim's letter as saying on Thursday.

"Do not deprive children of their right to obtain a family," the boy reportedly wrote.

The media did not identify the disease from which Maxim was suffering, but several reports said treatment was easily accessible in the US.

The Kremlin's local children's rights representative said the chances of Putin changing his mind at this were "very low".

She described the Wallens as caring and attentive - two qualities missing from Maxim's children's home.

"There is a chance to treat Maxim in America and the Wallens are willing to pay," she said. "He could get a good education in that family."

Using children as pawns

The US government has accused Russia of using children as pawns in high-stakes diplomatic games during ex-KGB agent Putin's tumultuous 13 years in power.

But Putin has defended the measure, while national media released interviews with the director of Maxim's children's home denying that the teenager was either sick or had ever written such a letter.

"He has no genetic disease," the director of Children's Home No 13, Denis Matsko, told Business FM radio.

"He has certain health problems - just like we all do."

A co-sponsor of the Russian adoptions legislation said she believed the letter was genuine but said adults had probably made Maxim write it to make Russia look bad.

"This is all being done in order to make Russia look bad again," ruling United Russia party member Yekaterina Lakhova told the state RIA Novosti news agency.

"To manipulate a child like that - I just cannot imagine how someone could do that."

And a Kremlin spokesperson said no such letter had reached Putin's desk.

"We checked everything very carefully," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told state media. "The president's administration never received a letter."

Foreign adoption

Foreign adoptions are a sensitive issue in Russia because the practice of adopting has never truly taken hold among Russians themselves.

The Soviet Union raised all disadvantaged children in children's homes, many of which continue to operate today across the country.

The United States comprises the largest part of foreign Russian adoptions - nearly 1 000 adoptions were recorded last year - while Russia is the third-most popular country for US nationals seeking children abroad.

Putin's law terminated the processing of nearly 50 adoption cases that had been under review by the Russian courts.

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