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Russia's struggle against narcotics

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  • thekoba@aztec.asu.edu
    The following article appeared on page A24 of the sunday 11 August 2002 edition of The Arizona Republic and is credited to Judith Ingram of the Associated
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 14, 2002
      The following article appeared on page A24 of the sunday 11 August 2002
      edition of The Arizona Republic and is credited to Judith Ingram of the
      Associated Press:


      Afghan Heroin the Choice of Nation's Users

      Moscow--Hidden inside cabages, hollowed walnuts, even the bellies of poor
      pregnant women, Afghan heroin steadily flows into Russia, joining a stream
      of illegal drugs that officials warn is a growing threat to the nation's

      Over the past five years, Russia has become a major way station on the
      trafficking route from Afghanistan to European markets.

      After a monthlong lull at the start of the war in Afghanistan last fall,
      the trade picked up again, Russian police say. They report seizing 1,100
      pounds [500 kg] of heroin this year along with more than 2000 pounds [900
      kg] stopped on the border between Afghanistan and the former Soviet
      republic of Tajikistan.

      "We expect a flood of drugs, which are now growing in Afghanistan, in the
      second half of the year," said Oleg Kharichkin, deputy director of the
      Interior Ministry's drug division.

      Drugs From All Over

      Afghanistan isn't the only culprit. Traffickers use organised crime channels
      to ship cocaine from Latin America through Russian seaports to Europe and
      the United States. Peddlers bring in the ephedrine from China. Amphetamines
      and other synthetic drugs come from Europe, especially Poland. Ukrainians,
      Lithuanians and Belarussians smuggle in poppy straw.

      But it is Afghan heroin that has become the narcotic of choice for addicts
      in Russia, where more than three million people are estimated to be hooked
      on drugs. That is nearly 2.1 percent of the population, which compares with
      1.6 percent in the United States, the U.S. Office of National Drug Control
      Policy estimated.

      Prevention programmes are nearly non-existent, and the decade after the
      collapse of the Soviet Union has seen the steady closure of government-funded
      youth clubs and recreation centres that kept many children and teens out of

      Seventy percent of Russia's 450,000 registered addicts are 25 and younger,
      and most start using drugs at 14 or 15.

      Another worry is that the heroin trade finances numerous militant groups
      along the country's restive southern flank, threatening security of Russia
      and its neighbours.

      "Extremists need a lot of cash. For them, drugs are fast, easy, good money,"
      said Lieutenant General Konstantin Totsky, chief of Russia's border guards.

      Carried by donkeys and humans across the Pyandzh River and the Pamir
      Mountains, which form Afghanistan's northern border with Tajikistan,
      heroin is smuggled over the mountains of Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan into
      Kazakstan, and from there across the sparsely patrolled 4435-mile
      [7136 kilometre] frontier with Russia. The U.S.-Mexican border is half as
      long and much less rugged.

      Russia has 10,700 border guards monitoring the Tajik-Afghan border, along with
      10,000 soldiers. Hardly a day goes by without a skirmish. Some drug
      couriers are killed, while others escape back into Afghanistan, abandoning
      their cargoes for the troops to burn.

      Waiting For Shipment

      "At present, on the border of Afghanistan and Tajikistan, there are about
      seven tons of opium and almost two tons of heroin already warehoused and
      ready for transport to Russia and Europe," said Kharichkin, the Interior
      Ministry official.

      Russia is seeking money from the United Nations and Western nations to
      strengthen security on the drug routes. Negotiations also are under way to
      provide satellite imaging data on poppy cultivation to the Afghan government,
      said Lt. Gen. Alexander Sergeyev, chief of the Interior Ministry's
      anti-trafficking unit.

      Meanwhile, smugglers are spreading drugs across Russia. Besides Moscow
      and St. Petersburg, heroin gangs concentrate on cities in the oil and gas
      regions of Siberia and the Far North, where salaries are higher and markets

      One major crossroads is the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg, about 135
      miles north of the Kazak border and a gateway between Asia and the more
      densely populated European part of Russia. The city attracts seasonal workers
      from Central Asia, who police say run drug-smuggling businesses out of the
      city's wholesale produce market. Men, women and children take part.

      "More and more we're seeing women in early stages of pregnancy carrying drugs.
      For $500 they're prepared to carry heroin in their abdominal cavities,"
      said Fyodor Anikeyev, a Yekaterinburg drug squad officer. "Seeing their
      pale, unhealthy look, agents naturally pick them out, but doctors refuse to
      X-ray them so the babies won't be harmed."

      Official corruption also plays a role. Nazir Salimov, head of the
      Yekaterinburg squad, said two top Tajik police officials were arrested in
      the city in June for trying to seell a large consignment of heroin.

      The same month, in Tajikistan, a former deputy defense minister was charged
      with trafficking after ordering a military helicopter to drop off 175 pounds
      [80 kg] of opium and a pound [450 g] of heroin, officials said.

      Activists working with addicts say that Russian officials are deeply
      involved too.

      Some Say Law Corrupt

      "There's a huge level of corruption in law enforcement agencies at all
      levels in Russia," said Father Anatoly Berestov, a neuropathologist and
      Russian Orthodox monk who runs a drug-treatment centre at the 17th
      Century Krutitskoye church in Moscow.

      Interior Ministry officials deny the charge.

      Berestov and others also complain that the main police effort appears
      aimed at punishing addicts, not traffickers.

      Possessing even a small amount of marijuana means up to three years in
      prison. Helping a friend counts as distribution, and nets seven to
      15 years.

      "Why is there enough money to maintain these prisoners but not enough
      for real anti-drug campaigning?" said Anna, a former heroin addict
      who works at Krutitskoye centre.

      Experts and addicts alike blame the spiritual cricis and particularly
      the permissiveness that gripped the country after the Soviet collapse,
      including and explosion of pornography, movie and TV violence, and
      teenage drinking.

      "This atmosphere of 'everything is permitted' has overwhelmed everyone,"
      said Anna, who declines to give her last name. "Plus there's the
      situation at home, where parents are running around trying to figure
      out how to make enough money to feed their children."

      Berestov appears often on television and radio and travels throughout
      Russia. The program at his center, which is financed entirely by
      donations, includes psychological and medical counseling, work at the
      center or a nearby monastery, and a lot of prayer. He claims an 80
      percent cure rate for the 3,000 addicts treated.
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