Countering Illicit Drug Trafficking in Russia: Achievements and Failures

Posted in Russia | 21-Dec-04 | Author: Dmitry Udalov

Although this year was declared a watershed in combating the narcotics business in Russia (see WSN 15-Apr-04), there is still a lot to be done. Six months ago, President Putin said that Russia is expecting impressive results from the Federal Service for Control of Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

Some of the results achieved during this period look impressive and have been highly praised by the UN. First of all, operation “Canal 2004” was held in two stages: The first stage in September 2004, the second one in November 2004. The aim of this operation was to counter drug trafficking in the member countries of the Central Asian Memorandum on Drugs (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan). The first stage included combined efforts of local militia and police forces, special forces, customs inspectors and frontier guards. During the operation the police seized more than 3 tons of narcotics, 276 different kinds of guns and other illegal materials worth $700,000. 963 people were arrested. Special attention was given to the regions bordering Afghanistan. Although it sounds strange, drug traffic has nearly doubled since U.S. and NATO military operations began in Afghanistan. According to the Federal Service for Control of Drugs, 90% of illicit narcotics enter Russia through Afghanistan. Some Russian politicians have called for the bombing of Afghan opium plantations by the Russian Air Force; presently, the Russian government does not support this idea as it contradicts international law. It is for this very reason that international cooperation in this sphere is very important to Russia.

The sixth meeting of the Parties to the Central Asian Memorandum on Drugs (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (ODC) and the Aga Khan Development Foundation) took place in Moscow on December 14-15. Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Federation's Minister of Foreign Affairs, stressed the ever-increasing role of the Memorandum in the context of countering the Afghan threat. A joint statement was approved at the end of the meeting. It outlined the specific areas of cooperation between the parties for combating the illegal trade in drugs and the crimes that accompany such trade.

Simultaneously, a decision was taken to implement a project for the establishment of a Regional Information Coordination Center in Central Asia, whose functions would include prompt response to drug-related crimes. The outcome of the meeting is a real contribution to the concept of establishing and strengthening "anti-drug security belts" around Afghanistan. The 7th regular meeting of the Memorandum participants is scheduled for 2005.

Russian anti-drug services were not only successful in waging operations in Central Asia; they were also quite vigorous in Russia. In 2004, Russian law-enforcement services confiscated more heroine than in the previous two years (See diagram). From one perspective this is a positive fact, but it also indicates the tendency that hard drugs such as heroin are becoming more popular in the country. 4 million people are reported delinquent because of drug addiction; 20,000 of them are teenagers and 11,000 children (under 18). One million are desperate drug addicts in need of special treatment. At the same time, the number of drug-related crimes increased from 220,000 in 2003 to 248,000 in 2004. 3,600 of these crimes were conducted by organized criminal drug gangs. On December 14, offenders attacked the office of the anti-drug service in Kabardino-Balkaria and killed two detectives and stole 250 guns.

The Russian Federal Service for Control of Drugs uses all devices to stop illicit drug trafficking. For example, 62 Russian policemen were accused of helping drug gangs in 2004. However, law enforcement measures for counting illicit drugs are not enough. This is why a number of combined programs are being worked out in detail. For instance, the Ministry of Education is deeply concerned about drug proliferation in schools. As a result, the ministry increased the number of school psyschologists by 7, 000 in 2004 to help pupils avoid becoming drug addicts. 56 special books with a circulation of 500,000 were published and distributed in schools. They were edited by teachers, doctors and psychologists to explain to children in a comprehensible way the risks of taking drugs. Another initiative of the Ministry of Education that is under consideration is to test all students and pupils annually to determine whether or not they take drugs.

Drug advertising in Russia has become increasingly more offensive. Drugs are considered to be an inevitable part of a teenager’s culture. The drug mafia promotes drugs by all means in the wealthiest regions of Russia: Moscow, St. Petersburg and the oil-producing provinces. Usually, supporters of drugs appeal to human rights to safeguard a person’s right to take whatever he likes. The Russian Federal Service for Control of Drugs admits that it must also counter drugs in the media.

All figures are from Russian Federal Service for Control of Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (