Moscow furious, says US not pushing drug war in Afghanistan
Moscow's new drug czar, Viktor Ivanov, claims Russia is being flooded with cheap heroin and charges that the US and its NATO allies in Afghanistan are reluctant to pursue a drug war that could drive poppy farmers into the arms of the Taliban.
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A gruff and graying veteran of the Soviet Union's disastrous military intervention in Afghanistan, he recently made his first return visit to that country. When he came back to Moscow, he had harsh words for the Western alliance, charging that it is enabling a drug-fueled hurricane of destabilization that is now sweeping across former Soviet Central Asia and Russia.
He wants the war in Afghanistan to be a proper drug war. Why?
Mr. Ivanov says the flow of narcotics from the fields of Afghanistan into Russia has increased by 16 percent in the past three years alone, spiking urban drug addiction. He alleged in a March press conference that drug barons are uniting with Islamist militants to seize power in vulnerable Central Asian states – and that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) failure to deal with Afghanistan's burgeoning drug production threatens to create a security nightmare for Russia and its regional allies.
"We do not believe the principal aims of the NATO security operation in Afghanistan have been achieved," Ivanov said at a press conference. "Of course the struggle against terrorism should take precedence, but what about liquidating drug production? How does it happen that almost 10 years after NATO occupied this country, Afghanistan is not only the world's largest producer of opium, but also of hashish, surpassing the traditional global leader, Morocco?"
In recent years, Russia and NATO have run a school for Afghan antidrug police in the Moscow-region town of Domodedovo, turning out hundreds of graduates. But despite that cooperation, experts say Moscow is increasingly dubious about NATO's ability to impose order in Afghanistan, and may be seeking ways to expand its influence in Central Asia against the day the United States decides to leave. Some analysts suggest that the Kremlin's recent backing of a coup in Kyrgyzstan could be a sign of more assertive behavior to come.
"The former Soviet states of central Asia are our own backyard," says Tatiana Parkhalina, director of the independent Center for European Security in Moscow. "Moscow doesn't want to stand by while the Taliban and terrorist networks convert the financial resources from drug trafficking into arms and political influence... There is a practical alliance taking shape between drug traffickers and terrorists, and it is a very big threat."
More heroin addicts?
Ivanov says there are now at least 2 million heroin addicts in Russia, but other experts claim the number is higher. "The inflow of drugs from Afghanistan via Central Asia into Russia is increasing exponentially, as is consumption," says Stanislav Belkovsky, president of the Kremlin-connected Institute of National Strategy. "The only thing Ivanov exaggerates is the will and ability of the state to struggle against this threat."