By CLIFFORD J. LEVY
MOSCOW — Russia would like to stop giving away its babies.
Within days or weeks, it will probably lift the suspension on adoptions by Americans that it formally announced Thursday. But eventually, as a senior Kremlin official said, the government needs to find a way to ensure that all Russia’s children stay in Russia. After all, how can a country with a shrinking population so readily surrender its very own to foreigners?
“We must, as much as possible, keep our children in our country, and keep them safe here,” said the official, Pavel A. Astakhov.
As the new children’s ombudsman in Russia, Mr. Astakhov has helped shape the government plan to tighten rules on adoptions, put in place after the uproar surrounding a 7-year-old boy who was sent back to Russia by himself last week by a Tennessee woman who adopted him last year.
A celebrity lawyer and television personality, he has used his flair for the spotlight to make certain that the plight of the boy and other Russian children who have been mistreated abroad remains in the public eye. The cases are a prickly subject here, not just because the children have been taken away and abused, but also because the country has been unable to do anything about it.
In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Astakhov emphasized that he did not favor a permanent adoption ban, acknowledging that there were simply not enough Russian families who want to adopt children. But he suggested that more restrictions, combined with strenuous efforts to help Russian parents and to encourage adoptions inside the country, would sharply reduce the number of children sent abroad.
He added that it was “big business” for adoption agencies to find foreign adoptive parents, contending that Russian families were sometimes overlooked because it was far more profitable to offer children abroad.
“I see many mistakes, abuses, disinformation concerning children,” he said. “But that’s our domestic problem.”
Yet, cutting the number of adoptions of Russian children by foreigners will not be easy. Many of the roughly 750,000 children in Russia that officials say have either no parents or parents who have lost custody are housed in a sprawling system of orphanages.
There is a stigma attached to adoption in Russia that makes many here more reluctant to adopt than most foreigners are, and the foster care system is rudimentary. As a result, experts worry that children will pile up in orphanages without the safety valve of foreign adoptions. But some also expressed the hope that the attention now being focused on the issue would help break down Russians’ resistance.
The suspension was announced Thursday by a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman. The State Department in Washington said it had not yet been formally notified, but Mr. Astakhov said all adoptions were now halted.
An American delegation is planning to hold talks in Moscow next week, and Mr. Astakhov said he was optimistic that new rules could be devised.
“For nearly 20 years, there has been adoption by Americans of Russian children, but until now, there has been no agreement,” he said. “That is just wrong. We seem to have arrived at that moment when we need to prove that we know how to agree on not only nuclear missiles and atomic bombs, but also on the needs of children.”
Mr. Astakhov said both potential parents and adoption agencies should be scrutinized more closely.
Russia was the third leading source of adoptive children in the United States in 2009, with 1,586, after China and Ethiopia, officials said. But that figure had been decreasing in recent years, in part because of concerns about fetal alcohol syndrome and other health issues.
More than 250 American families are nearing the end of the process of adopting Russian children, and those cases will be held up until the new rules are approved, Russian officials said. In addition, as many as 3,500 Russian children are in some stage of the adoption process with 3,000 American families, according to the Joint Council on International Children’s Services.
Russian officials acknowledge that the vast majority of adoptions have turned out well in recent decades. But 14 Russian children adopted by Americans have died of abuse since 1996, Russian officials said last year.
In the United States, parents who are trying to adopt Russian children reacted with deep disappointment to the suspension. “I don’t know what Russia is thinking about the impact on these children,” said Sue Gainor, chairwoman of Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption. “They’ve said, ‘One of our children has been mistreated, therefore we need to take these draconian measures.’ They are not thinking about the thousands of children waiting and languishing in orphanages.”
Mr. Astakhov, 43, is an unlikely child welfare crusader. Before being appointed by President Dmitri A. Medvedev, he was one of Russia’s leading private lawyers, and he does not have a child welfare background.
If the case of the 7-year-old boy, born Artyom Savelyev, has turned into a media circus, Mr. Astakhov seems to be playing the role of ringmaster. He has been a constant presence on television, and was even shown gently interviewing the boy himself.
It is a familiar medium for him. He is the host of a popular television program, “Hour of Judgment,” in which he adjudicates the kinds of cases often heard on “Judge Judy” in the United States. (He is still allowed to work on the show even though he is a federal employee, he said.)
He said it was proper for him to engage the news media, adding that showing the boy on television attracted potential parents who might consider adopting him.
“We have an understanding with the president, who appointed me, that our work must attract maximum publicity,” he said. “We must talk about what we are doing, and about these outrages.”
Mr. Astakhov has an unusual perspective on Russian-American relations, having attended both an institute of the K.G.B. and the University of Pittsburgh.
He has not shied away from focusing on abuses in Russia, pointing out that Russian children adopted by Russians have come to harm far more often than Russian children in the United States.
Mr. Astakhov said he realized that Americans seeking to adopt Russians would be upset. But he said changes were needed. “Adoptions will continue,” he said. “We only want guarantees for the lives and the safety of our children abroad. Because we are giving to American families the most precious thing for us: our children.”
Sarah Kershaw contributed reporting from New York.