MOSCOW – A teenager adopted by an American couple has returned to Russia after five years claiming that his adoptive family treated him badly and that he lived on the streets of Philadelphia and stole just to survive, according to Russian state media reports.
The allegations by Alexander Abnosov, now 18, will likely fuel outrage here over the fate of Russian children adopted by Americans. It's an anger that the Kremlin has carefully stoked to justify its controversial ban on U.S. adoptions.
Russia's Channel 1 and Rossiya television -- which are both state controlled -- reported Tuesday that Abnosov returned from a Philadelphia suburb to the Volga river city of Cheboksary, where his 72-year-old grandmother lives.
Russian media identified the teen as Alexander Abnosov, but also show him displaying a U.S. passport that gives his name as Joshua Alexander Salotti.
Abnosov, who spoke in a soft voice and appeared somewhat restrained, complained to Rossiya that his adoptive mother was "nagging at small things."
"She would make any small problem big," he said on Channel 1. He also told Channel 1 that he fled home because of the conflicts with his adoptive mother, staying on the streets for about three months and stealing.
"I was stealing stuff and sold them to get some food," he said with a shy smile.
According to the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, Abnosov says that his parents visited him while he stayed in a shelter in Philadelphia, but that they didn't ask him to come home as he'd expected. Channel 1 said his adoptive father gave him $500 to buy a ticket to Russia, though it wasn't clear when he arrived here.
The newspaper said it reached Abnosov's adoptive mother, who denied driving him away. She was quoted as saying he was asked to come home, but said he wanted to return to Russia where he has relatives to care for.
The teen's adoptive parents -- Steve and Jackie Salotti -- could not immediately be reached Tuesday. A woman who identified herself as a relative at the couple's home in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, said the parents weren't there and did not want to discuss the case.
Abnosov's story was top news on Russian state television, which tried to cast it as an example of the alleged misfortunes that befall Russian children adopted by U.S. parents.
The Russian government in December banned all American adoptions of Russian children in retaliation for a new U.S. law targeting alleged Russian human-rights violators.
Some 60,000 children have been adopted by Americans in the past two decades, and many Russians disagree with the ban, seeing it as a politically driven move depriving children of a chance to have a family.
To help justify it, the ban has been accompanied by extensive state media coverage of what is described as numerous cases of parental cruelty to adopted Russian children in the United States. The Kremlin also has accused U.S. authorities of turning a blind eye to such cases.
Most recently, Russian officials pointed to the Jan. 21 death of 3-year-old Max Shatto, born Maxim Kuzmin, whose mother found him unresponsive outside their home in Gardendale, Texas.
Russian officials claimed the boy was the victim of "inhuman treatment," and expressed disbelief with an American grand jury decided earlier this month not to charge Max's adoptive parents in his death after a prosecutor concluded his fatal injuries were accidental.
Abnosov's grandmother told Rossiya that she was refused custody of her grandson after his alcoholic father died five years ago.
"I've been asking them to give me the boy," she said, referring to child welfare officials. "But I was very ill then, and they told me I was too old and ill to raise him."
Abnosov indicated he plans to stay in Russia, and state media reported that he is going through the legal process needed to establish at what level he would fit in the Russian education system.