MOSCOW - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that Moscow had no intention of beginning an evacuation of its citizens in Syria. He also defended a controversial ban on American adoptions, citing the reported abuse and death of some Russian children adopted by families in the United States.
Lavrov, speaking at an annual news conference summing up the year in foreign policy, said Russia has not received similar reports of mistreatment of Russian children adopted in European countries. Therefore, he said, those adoptions will continue. He spoke optimistically, however, about future relations with the United States, saying Russia wants constructive dialogue and cooperation with Washington even as he stressed that any acts Moscow considered unfriendly would be met with a stern response.
Although 77 Russian citizens who had been living in Syria arrived in Moscow Wednesday on two Russian flights from Beirut, Lavrov declined to describe their departure as an evacuation. He said that there were no plans to begin evacuating any of the thousands of Russians living in Syria, many of them women married to Syrian men who once studied in Russia.
Lavrov said Russia has contingency plans for evacuating its citizens in Syria, as it does for any unstable region. "But we are not talking about carrying out these plans now."
He said employees of the Russian Embassy in Damascus would stay put, although their families and the embassy's nonessential personnel left the country long ago.
Fears among Russians in Syria were fanned by declarations from opposition forces saying Russians were legitimate targets for violence because of Moscow's unyielding backing of President Bashar Assad during the almost two-yearlong uprising. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the fighting.
Lavrov oversaw long negotiations on the adoption issue that resulted in an agreement with the United States that went into effect in the fall. By December, however, Russia's parliament had decided to nullify the agreement and halt U.S. adoptions.
At first, Lavrov counseled against the ban. But he quickly abandoned that stance. On Wednesday, Lavrov avoided answering a question about his personal feelings on the issue.
Lavrov said he understood very well that the vast majority of the children adopted by U.S. families find loving homes. But he said that according to Russian estimates, dozens have been abused and at least 19 have died.
"This doesn't happen with European families," Lavrov said. In 2011, Americans adopted 965 Russian children, Italians adopted 798 and Spaniards 685, according to Russian figures.
U.S.-Russian relations, Lavrov said, are not at their best now. "But we are consistently promoting the idea that, despite problems and difficulties arising, we should continue to move ahead along the tracks where our interests coincide."