Russia: Anti-Drug Trafficking Light Goes On

Russia: Anti-Drug Trafficking Light Goes on in the Kremlin, but It’s Low Wattage

EurasiaNet Commentary

Russia has made a sudden shift when it comes to combatting narcotics
trafficking in Afghanistan. For years, Russian officials saw US
involvement in Central Asia as a greater national security threat than
Afghan drugs. But now, with addiction taking a huge social toll in
Russia, the Kremlin is getting behind anti-trafficking plans, even if
Russian officials remain leery of cooperating with the United States.

Russia is currently experiencing a demographic crisis of unprecedented proportions. The three demons of Russia’s social apocalypse are alcohol, heart disease and drugs.

Russia’s Drug Control Service and Ministry of Interior recently
released data on the truly tragic nature of the country’s drug
situation. About 8.5 million Russians, or approximately 6 per cent of
the population, are classified as addicted to drugs and the number is
growing. In addition, 88,000 people were arrested in 2012 on
drug-related charges and law enforcement agencies seized 85 tons of
narcotic. Perhaps the most alarming number is 30,000 — the number of
Russians who die each year from drug-related causes.

It’s well known that most of the drugs flowing into Russia originate in Afghanistan, traveling via Central Asian trafficking routes. Yet until recently Russia blocked formation of an anti-narcotics organization
proposed by the United States that would strive to choke off these
routes. The Kremlin’s recalcitrance had been mainly rooted in concern
that the US footprint in Central Asia would grow too big. In effect,
this suspicion of US intentions caused Russia to ignore its best
interests, namely taking action to stem the flood of drugs into the

Russian criticism of the US policy for not going after drug lords and
not destroying Afghan poppy fields reached a crescendo in 2011 — even
as this drumbeat ignored what US officers serving in Afghanistan knew
very well: that members of the Russian military and government were
corrupt and part of the problem.

But that was two years ago. In late 2012, a light apparently came on
in Moscow, one that prompted Russian leaders to set a new course on the
anti-trafficking issue. It marks an improvement over the old stance, but
not by much.

The central flaw of Russia’s anti-trafficking initiatives remains a
preoccupation with geopolitics, rather than a desire to concentrate its
energy on tackling a domestic scourge.

It’s still clear, for example, that Vladimir Putin’s administration
wants to implement plans that keep the US role to an absolute minimum.
Under a scheme envisioned by Russia, a newly created multinational drug
agency would operate under the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s
auspices, and coordinate directly with individual, member states. The
United States, of course, is not affiliated with the SCO.

In addition, Russia is misdiagnosing the causes of the disease.
Officials, notably Viktor Ivanov, the head of Russia’s Federal Drug
Control Service, have expressed the belief that Russia’s narcotics
problem is caused by demand generated by trans-national cartels, rather
than by the unsettled situation in war-torn Afghanistan, indigenous
Russian demand and pervasive corruption within Russian security

The Kremlin also doesn’t seem so interested in tackling official
corruption. Moscow now believes that a multilateral anti-drug agency,
cooperating closely with the Afghan government, which is ridden with
corruption, could be effective in addressing cultivation and trafficking
issues inside Afghanistan. This belief is folly pure and simple.

The same goes for cooperation with Tajikistan. Regional analysts have long believed Tajik officials are heavily involved trafficking operations,
yet both Russia and the United States provide assistance to Tajik
governmental agencies that is broadly aimed at combatting trafficking.
Such assistance is a waste of money,
some analysts contend, adding that inviting Tajikistan to participate
in a multilateral anti-trafficking organization would undermine that
group’s credibility.

The creation of an effective anti-drug organization in Central Asia
and Afghanistan is a lofty goal that deserves support. But such an
initiative won’t stand a chance of success until key countries are
willing to set geopolitical obsessions aside and undertake substantive
efforts to promote Afghanistan’s economic stabilization and curb graft
throughout the region. Until then, it is sadly the case that there will
probably be more rhetoric and political posturing than effective
anti-trafficking activity in these areas.

Editor’s note: 

Stephen Blank is a professor at the US Army War
College. The views expressed this article do not in any way represent
the views of the US Army, Defense Department or the US Government.

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