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26 Feb, 2010 15:09

Georgia is drug-runners’ route of choice – Russian law enforcers

Georgia is drug-runners’ route of choice – Russian law enforcers

Drug traffickers are increasingly using Georgia to smuggle narcotics from Afghanistan to Russia. That is according to the head of the Russian Federal Drug Control Service Viktor Ivanov.

“Georgia is an important trans-shipment point for drugs going from Afghanistan to Russia”, said Ivanov during an interdepartmental conference in Essentuki. According to Georgian opposition press, confirmed by Russian authorities, seven tonnes of heroin pass through Georgia each year, which ends up in Russia’s North Caucasus Federal District and then in Europe, with big ports such as Poti and Batumi being involved.

Commenting on the situation in the North Caucasus, the head of Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service said that overall drug trafficking through the North Caucasus has intensified: “According to our Pakistani colleagues, special operations caused a 70 per cent weakening in the southern drug trafficking routes across Pakistan to India and that [percentage] has been redirected to the North Caucasus.” As for the main reasons behind that shift, Ivanov named the high unemployment rate in the region and the phenomenal amounts of drugs in Afghanistan. To fight the current trend, a new unit of the State Anti-Narcotics Committee has been set up in the North Caucasus.

As for Georgia, the head of Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service thinks that corruption is also to blame: “According to our data and information from foreign sources, a high level of corruption among Georgian authorities is preventing the fight against drug transit across the country from being effective.”

Ilnur Batyrshin, director of the Center for Antidrug Policy Research, told RT that the Georgian government and the Saakashvilli regime are to blame for the increased drug smuggling through the country, as he believes the Georgian authorities cannot keep the situation in the country under control. “Political instability has increased under the Saakashvilli regime," Batyrshin said. "That has led to the flourishing of several criminal structures, including drug dealers. Therefore, it’s easier now for them to do their ‘business’ through Georgia, rather than through the Central Asian republics as they did before.” However, he thinks, any international intervention in this matter, such as increased drug trafficking control within Georgia, will not help to solve the problem, but could rather make it worse, as that would make the Georgian government even weaker. In his view, only a strong leadership can fight the drug trafficking problem in the country.

Vyacheslav Sherbakov, associate professor at the Moscow State University of the Ministry of Internal Affairs thinks that the Georgian government is well aware of the situation, and it all depends on their political will, as to whether they will cooperate with Russia on fighting drug trafficking through their territory or not. “Drug trafficking is one of the political tools, that is often used by countries," Sherbakov told RT. "Usually, when the political authorities of one country want to weaken the authorities in another country, they help drug smuggling through their territory, thus, they undermine the security situation in the state against which they are acting”, Vyacheslav Sherbakov believes.

Ilnur Batyrshin, though, thinks it would be wrong to state that Georgian authorities are interested in increased drug trafficking to Russia. However, he told RT, this alternative point of view may be taking place: “After Georgia failed to win the war in South Ossetia, they understood that they can’t achieve their goals by military means. Therefore, it would be logical to assume that Georgian authorities are now looking for other ways to achieve their political goals, and this may well be destabilizing the situation in Russia by drug trafficking”. He considers, however, the best way to reduce drug trafficking is to fight drug production in Afghanistan.

According to a recent United Nations report, 92 per cent of the world’s opium is produced in Afghanistan. Each year, about 900 tonnes of opium and 350 tonnes of heroin are being transported to Russia, Europe, India and China. Russia is the world’s biggest consumer of heroin, getting about 20 per cent of Afghanistan’s narcotics. According to the latest data, about 30,000 people in Russia die from Afghan heroin each year, which is more than the total losses of the Soviet Army during the 10 years of the Afghan war.

Olga Masalkova, RT