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24 May, 2010 11:28

Russia passes info on nine Afghan drug lords to US

In an effort to combat drug trafficking, Russia has handed over intelligence data on nine drug lords living in Afghanistan and Central Asia to the US.

"Within the framework of a strategic co-operation, the Russian side has handed over information on nine subjects, living in Afghanistan and Central Asia, who are involved in drug trafficking, in supply of bulk of drugs," said the head of the Federal Drug Control Service (FDCS), Viktor Ivanov, as quoted by RIA Novosti.

The documents were given to the US Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske, during his stopover at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on Sunday: the Obama administration’s top drug adviser was en route to Stockholm. The brief meeting between Ivanov and Kerlikowske was the fourth in less than a year.

Neither the names nor the nationalities of the drug traffickers that Moscow would like to see prosecuted were disclosed publicly. What is known is that they reside in Afghanistan. Therefore, it would be much easier for the US military troops to grab the suspects rather than the Russian drug enforcement agency, writes Izvestia newspaper.

“Those people are very powerful. They are connected with large bulks of narcotics – including heroin – which get into our country from Afghanistan,” Nikolay Kartashov, the spokesperson for the FDCS told the paper.

Earlier, the Russian side passed over information on 25 people involved in drug trafficking and information on 175 drug laboratories operating in Afghanistan to their American counterparts.

Destroying the laboratories "is the most urgent task”, Ivanov stressed. “These are already well-established cartels, with a stable hierarchy and structure, funding sources and technological equipment to produce drugs."

With drug addiction in Russia at epidemic level – the country is the biggest consumer of Afghan heroin in the world – the leadership is striving hard to eradicate the problem. President Dmitry Medvedev has dubbed it a threat to national security. And that is not an exaggeration, as out of a population of about 140 million, Russia has up to 2.5 million drug addicts; some 30,000 of them die each year. Most of them are young people aged between 18 and 39.

"The drug situation in Russia is rather difficult, and needs fast decisions, both in Russia and within the framework of international cooperation," Viktor Ivanov said earlier this year.

The country is affected by Afghan opium – which is being smuggled in through Central Asian states – more than any other. But the problem is indeed not purely Russian. According to the UN, Afghan opium kills about 100,000 people every year worldwide. However, so far Moscow’s calls for eradication of opium poppy fields in the Islamic Republic have not found sympathy within the US-led coalition of NATO states.

Back in March the alliance’s spokesperson James Appathurai said, "We cannot be in a situation where we remove the only source of income of people who live in the second-poorest country in the world without being able to provide them with an alternative."

Meanwhile, Afghan drug production rocketed after the US-led operation was launched in 2001 and the Taliban regime – which banned poppy cultivation – was swept from power.

On Monday, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is due to meet Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan Staffan Mistura in Moscow. Fighting the drug threat coming from the Islamic Republic will be the main focus of the discussion, which is being held ahead of international meeting on Afghanistan scheduled for July.

Russia’s top diplomat also raised the issue that concerns Moscow last week, while on official visit to Rome.

"The major reserve that should be put into action in Afghanistan in the struggle with drug trafficking is the destruction of not only drug laboratories and drug trafficking routes, but also direct opium production outlets. We cannot come to agreement with some our European colleagues on the destruction of drug crops," he said, as quoted by Itar-Tass. Lavrov recalled that Moscow put forward several initiatives, which are under discussion in the NATO-Russia Council. "It seems to us that our proposals should be taken with higher interest," he noted.

Lavrov suggested that an additional mandate should be granted to destroy opium poppy crops.

"People who provide their lands for opium crops should be put on the blacklists of the UN Security Council and should be subjected to sanctions," he said.

Natalia Makarova, RT