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Who supports "drugs genocide" against Russia?
September 10, 2010 18:06

A series of categoric statements by top Russian officials in recent days, orchestrated by Ivanov, including a high level international conference on the issue in Moscow, show Russia placing anti-narcotics in Afghanistan on an equal level with the worldwide war on terrorism.

The reason is obvious: Russia suffers most from Afghanistans narcotics exports. Russia is the worlds largest consumer of Afghan heroin, and official statistics point to a staggering 30-40,000 deaths each year as a result of overdoses, with an estimated total of 2.5m users.

With Russia still a very weak state in terms of law enforcement, trying to strangle the heroin problem at birth in Afghanistans poppy fields may seem the most effective strategy to Russian policymakers.

But Russian demands on Afghanistan could create a new source of tension with the US, just as President Barrack Obamas reset policy of cooperating with Russia is bearing fruit on a wide range of other issues. The fact that, until 2008 US policymakers were equally enthusiastic supporters of opium crop eradication gives Russian officials additional ammunition.

Under George W. Bush the US was preparing to rollout in Afghanistan the crop eradication policy that had proved successful in Columbia, including aerial crop spraying. But under Barack Obama there has been a U-turn on the issue. Obamas Afghanistan policy-makers diplomat Richard Holbrooke and newly-appointed head of international and US forces General Stanley McChrystal argue crop eradication would fuel the insurgency by depriving farmers of livelihoods and forcing them to sign up with the insurgency. The new policy is to encourage farmers to adopt alternative livelihoods such as wheat farming, while stepping up narcotics interdiction.

Ivanov has vigorously attacked the US U-turn. From the Russian point of view, US-led forces in Afghanistan turn a blind eye to opium production, because the US is not directly affected by the heroin flood. From the US point of view, it is not Russian troops who will die if eradication is resisted and the insurgency grows.

Competing claims and conflicting interests led to high emotions during the Moscow conference. Russian party claimed that international forcers were complicit with drug smugglers in failing to inspect outbound cargos, and even abetting drugs leaving Afghanistan. Russian Duma deputy Semen Bagdasarov spoke of a genocide by drugs inflicted on Russia. Afghan voices pointed out that it was the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s that created the conditions for opium production, by destroying much of the elaborate irrigation systems essential for successfully farming licit crops in Afghanistan.

Maria Costa, head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, whom Ivanov has attacked in the past for opposing crop eradication, lamented in Moscow an extraordinary lack of information about opium, and pointed out that Afghan opium cultivation was down 30% 2008-2009. Moreover, said Costa, a blight currently devastating the opium crop will reduce the harvest by another 30% this year. Costa conceded that production could bounce back again in 2011, given the price hike that resulted from the blight.

Responding to his Russian critics, Costa argued that affected countries, including Russia, should do more to reduce their own domestic demand for heroin, with $13bn heroin consumed in Russia, $20bn in the EU, annually. He called for progress in drug addiction prevention and treatment where Russia is historically weak.

There's nothing to contradict Costa. He's wise who tries discovering the reasons of his problems inside himself before launching a new search for "external enemies".



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