Marina is almost 1-year-old now and still living in an orphanage in the Krasnodar region of southern Russia. The prospect of a new life in Texas for the girl, who only months ago seemed tantalizingly close to her prospective mother, is suddenly uncertain.
Ellen Butki, 42, who teaches English as a second language at the University of Texas at Austin, traveled to the orphanage last year and saw Marina twice in two days. "When they brought Marina in, she looked at me and gave me a big smile," recalled Butki, whose 3-year-old daughter, Natalia, was also adopted in Russia.
Butki agreed to adopt Marina and told a Russian social worker, "I love her." As required by Russian law, she flew home to wait to be called back for a court hearing several weeks later. She is still waiting.
Growing political and public hostility to foreign adoptions, combined with bureaucratic bungling and new rules, have played havoc with the hopes of prospective parents such as Butki. Foreign adoptions in Russia in the first few months of the year dropped to about a third of what they were at the same time last year, a U.S. Embassy official in Moscow said.
Americans adopted about 5,800 Russian children in 2004, which accounted for nearly 75 percent of all foreign adoptions in the country. Before the decline, Russia had been the second-most-popular country, after China, for adoptions by Americans.
The increasingly difficult atmosphere was triggered by Russian outrage over the killing of a 6-year-old Russian boy in Illinois by his American parent. Irma Pavlis, 34, was sentenced last month to 12 years in prison for the involuntary manslaughter of her son, Alex, in December 2003. Russian officials said there had been 12 cases of American parents killing adopted Russian children since adoption became possible after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The Pavlis case has drawn wide press coverage, prompting a range of responses, from self-examination about why Russians have adopted so few of the 700,000 orphans in their country to charges that foreigners have purchased and then abused Russian children.
Yekaterina Lakhova, chairwoman of the Committee on Women, Family and Youth, a key panel in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, said adoption from Russia sometimes amounts to "trafficking in children."
Tom Atwood, president of the U.S.-based National Council for Adoption, said he was outraged over the confirmed cases of violence. "But should many thousands of children be deprived of a family because of these rare instances?" he asked. "The idea that Russian children are being harmed in large numbers is totally false."
U.S. officials here said they were worried about hysteria. Last week, a Russian child was taken from his new American parents after a Russian woman called the police and charged that they were abusing the child in a hotel restaurant.
"Comments made to embassy representatives by the primary accuser in this case . . . suggest that she is fiercely opposed to foreign adoption and regards Americans in general as unfit to raise children," the U.S. Embassy said in an unusually blunt statement. "This raises serious questions as to her motivation for targeting this couple in this manner."
The statement noted that prosecutors had declined to charge the couple. But "Russian authorities have specifically victimized this American family, forcing them to depart the country without their child over disagreements on child-rearing practices," the statement added.
Two days later, a child was removed from an Italian family following a similar complaint from a Russian flight attendant. Italian officials questioned the validity of the claims.
The incidents followed months of legislative and bureaucratic changes that have made adoption more difficult.
In January, the State Duma passed a law that extended from three months to six the time a child must be on a federal register before becoming eligible for foreign adoption.
Butki and Marina were among those immediately affected; they would have to wait a little longer, Butki said she thought when the law was approved.
At the same time, a government overhaul left bureaucrats uncertain about who had the power to accredit adoption agencies. As a result, their licenses to operate in Russia lapsed. Orphanages and adoption agencies were uncertain how to proceed while some government officials accused them of working illegally.
The Education and Science Ministry finally began to accredit agencies last month but announced that it had denied accreditation to three from the United States, according to Alla Dzugayeva, a ministry official.
"These three agencies chronically and systematically violated Russian law by failing to file post-adoption reports," Dzugayeva said. Agencies are supposed to file reports by a social worker on the child's medical status and development 6, 12, 24 and 36 months after the adoption.
One of those agencies, the Los Ninos International Adoption Center in Texas, is the entity Butki is working with. "What does that mean for my case?" Butki asked. "Can this be resolved? Can it get transferred to another agency if necessary? Is it dead in the water? I don't know."
The head of Los Ninos, Jean Nelson-Erichsen, denied she had failed to file post-adoption reports. She also said the agency had not been notified that its accreditation had not been renewed. "They have all those reports," Nelson-Erichsen said. "As far as we know, we are still in good standing."
A U.S. Embassy official noted that it was "difficult legally for the adoption agencies to compel Americans to do subsequent reporting" because of privacy issues.
Following the Pavlis case, demands that Russian diplomats be given access to adopted children after they are in the United States have become increasingly important to some Russian officials who want a bilateral agreement granting them such access.
"We need a mechanism of control through our consular offices abroad," said Nina Ostanina, deputy head of the Committee on Women, Youth and Families, echoing recent calls from other Russian officials, including the country's prosecutor general.
Such a mechanism would undermine a multilateral agreement on adoption that the United States and Russia have signed and are pushing toward ratification, diplomats said. It would also be difficult legally to negotiate and implement.
Lawmakers such as Ostanina said they support a moratorium on all foreign adoptions until the system is fixed to their liking.
But severe restrictions or a moratorium appear unlikely given the stance of President Vladimir Putin; the president welcomed the adoption last year of a 3-year-old Russian girl by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his wife, Doris Schroeder-Koepf. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement recently there was "no reason to object" to foreign adoptions, as long as the process was "legally impeccable and transparent."
A physician at the orphanage where Marina lives said any decision on the adoption lies with the court. But the physician said she hoped the issue would be resolved quickly for the sake of the child and her prospective mother.
Obviously, Butki shares those feelings. "In my heart, she is my daughter," Butki said. "I want to get my baby and bring her home."