ROAR: “Anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan have reverse effect”

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
The failures of international forces in Afghanistan contribute to Russia’s bad drug addiction statistics, analysts believe.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in its latest report has called Russia the biggest consumer of Afghan heroin. According to the study, published on October 21, some 21% of all the Afghan-produced drugs consumed in the world are sold in Russia. The quantity of drug consumption in Russia has increased tenfold over the last ten years and reached 75-80 tons, the report said.

No less than 70 tons of heroin were trafficked to Russia in 2008, the study says – three times more than to the US and Canada together. More than 11 million opiate users of a total 15.4 million worldwide use heroin, the report found. According to the study, opiate users in Europe and Russia use nearly half the world heroin, and 42 percent is consumed in Iran.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has called opiate production in Afghanistan one of the major threats to the national security. Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service Head Viktor Ivanov has said that “about 2-2.5 million people [in Russia] are drug users… and 90% of drug-dependent people use Afghan opiates.” Afghanistan accounts for 92% of the world opiate production.

Most analysts agree that drug addiction is the major problem in Russia. At the same time, some of them doubt that UNODC has the right data about the number of drug addicts in Russia. Vladimir Ivanov, head of the Russia Without Drugs association, speaking to website, even described the UN report as “discrediting Russia.”

Sergey Polyatykin, head of a program of the No to Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Foundation, told the website that the official statistics count only those drug users who have been registered by health institutions. He explained the shocking figures in the UN report by the fact that more people have been registered in recent years as drug addicts.

However, the statistics do not reflect “the real problem and the extent of the use of drugs in our society,” Polyatykin said. Public is unaware of the real situation, he added. The analyst added that the figure mentioned by the UN report – about the tenfold increase of drug addicts – “shows the lack of real monitoring in this sphere.”

At the same time, the Russian media seem “to accept” the fact that Russia has become the biggest consumer of heroin and the second-largest market of opiates. And Russian law enforcement agencies and special services could do more in fighting drug trafficking, Vedomosti daily wrote in an editorial.

“Russia could strengthen borders on the routes of potential drug trafficking,” the paper said. “However, Moscow has not tried to return Russian frontier guards to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and the guards abandoned the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border in 2004-2006,” the daily said. The border with Kazakhstan is not properly equipped, the daily added.

Law enforcement agencies seized 3.5 tons of heroin in 2008, the paper said, adding that it amounts to only 4 percent of drugs coming into Russia. “In Europe and Turkey, 18% of incoming drugs are seized, in Iran – 19%,” the daily said.

On the other hand, the number of cured drug addicts in Russia is less than 10-12% (compared to 30% in Europe), and “that means that the majority of them return to the deadly market,” Vedomosti added.

“We need a new system of fighting trafficking based on the close cooperation with special services of other countries and prophylactic measures,” the daily said.

Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service and US special agencies have already agreed to exchange data on Afghan drugs. “We will transfer to the Americans 175 brands of drugs [samples] made in Afghanistan,” Viktor Ivanov said. In exchange, Russia expects to receive data on Afghan drug lords.

Speaker of the Russian State Duma, Boris Gryzlov, has proposed establishing a political and legal mechanism to fight drug trafficking from Afghanistan. Speaking at a meeting of the G8 parliamentary speakers in Rome on September 13, he urged his colleagues to address the UN “to include tasks and responsibility to eliminate drug-containing crops into the international forces’ mandate.”

Eliminating the drug production infrastructure in Afghanistan could be another task of the international forces, Gryzlov believes. The current anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan are not enough, he stressed. There could be an impression that “the effect is even the reverse,” he said.

“Analysts critical of Washington say that the main thing that the US troops have achieved in Afghanistan during the eight-year presence is the increase of opiate production by ten times compared to the previous period,” Vesti FM radio said. “The main share of drugs is being directed just to the north, to Russia.”

Head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for Relations with the Armed Forces, Archpriest Dimitry Smirnov, has even called on the Russian authorities to destroy poppy fields in Afghanistan “by spraying them with herbicides.” Other options are using aviation and “developing special missiles” to destroy the fields, the archpriest said.

Father Dimitry told Interfax news agency that “we can tell [Afghans] the specific days on which we will bomb” the fields. The war is going on against Russia in Afghanistan, he said, adding that its scale “exceeds the war that we conducted on the territory of Afghanistan under the Soviets.”

Commenting on this radical proposal, the president of the Moscow-based Institute of Middle East Studies Yevgeny Satanovsky said that using chemicals would be “a violation of all conventions.” Instead of aviation raids, other methods should be used, including the work with the locals, he told Vesti FM.

The population of Afghanistan should destroy poppy fields “on the ground,” he added. However, it is difficult to get them to do this. “Drugs are an evil with which we will have to live for dozens of years,” the analyst said. He also added that only professionals could decide how better to fight drug production and drug trafficking in that country.

Russian servicemen will not take part in operations in Afghanistan, Satanovsky said. “Let Americans in Afghanistan do the work that they are ready to do and can do, if they did not want the Soviet troops to do the same work 20 years ago,” he added.

Sergey Borisov, RT