Russian officials are fuming after a participant in a student exchange program refused to return to his native country. In reaction to the student's decision, Russia canceled the Future Leaders Exchange Program, which is an American-run organization that brings students from Russia and former Soviet countries to study in the United States. The Russians are also insinuating improper behavior when it came to the young man's request for asylum.
The Russian student met an elderly gay couple in Michigan, which took him in and helped him seek asylum, saying he was gay and could not live in Russia's increasingly antigay environment, which includes laws banning gay "propaganda" and adoption by same-sex couples (the youth initially lived with a different American host family, though they approved of his new home and asylum application).
Pavel Astakhov, children ombudsman for FLEX, gave an interview to a Russian newspaper, saying the youth and the couple, "…gradually developed — how can I say this carefully — close friendly relations. The men wanted to register their guardianship over him and have him live with them and he agreed."
The insinuations are all the more outrageous considering the gay couple became the youth's immigration sponsors and paid for him to study at Harvard University.
It's not clear if the student was granted asylum. It is clear though, that the Russians have canceled its participation in Flex for 2015 and 2016. A former FLEX participant calls the decision ridiculous. "It's absurd to suppose that the program could facilitate the seduction of young Russians," Anton Meshkov told The Guardian. "As a participant in this program myself, I know what a serious selection process host families go through."