Russia's Afghan drug problem
Local poppy farmers harvest the opium sap from the bulb of the plant during a ten-day harvesting period May 31, 2011 in Fayzabad, Badakhshan, Afghanistan. (Getty Images)
November 30th, 2011
11:59 AM ET

Russia's Afghan drug problem

Editor's Note: The following is an interview with Russia's top drug czar, Viktor Ivanov, who was recently in Chicago to meet with U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske.

Why is drug production rising in Afghanistan?

Viktor Ivanov: Drug production is always connected with the political and military situation in the country. The more tension and military clashes there are, the fewer chances the peasants have to grow legal, traditional agricultural crops. History has seen a number of examples of this. For example, military tension in Southeast Asia gave rise to the appearance of the so-called Golden Triangle –Thailand, Laos and Myanmar - which became notorious for producing drugs.

If we look at traditional agriculture, in the times of active military clashes, the risks for peasants are too big and too numerous because they have to grow the crops, collect, market, transport and sell them and at every stage there is a very high chance of losing the crops altogether.

But if we look at opium poppy, you hardly need to market it and the buyers come to the gate of the farm and buy it in bulk.

That’s why all the attempts to achieve higher profitability for growing traditional agricultural crops – especially at the moment of military tension – are doomed. They are not realistic or possible.

But on the other hand, if we go for the eradication of the crops – be it mechanical or by some other means – it still has to be accompanied by the economic rise of the country. The economic rise is hardly possible without a peace settlement in the region. Otherwise all those efforts become wasted.

This doesn’t mean work shouldn’t be carried out. But whatever is done, without a peace settlement, progress will be very hard in this case. That is why, for example, Russia has proposed a plan called Rainbow II, which combine measures to eradicate poppy crops with measures to promote the economic rise of Afghanistan.

Another point: At present, we are trying to assess the situation in Afghanistan by counting the drug-free provinces, which is good but not enough. In addition, we should create a personalized list of those landlords on whose land opium poppies are grown. It’s not the peasants who are working there who own the land. It is the landlords who should be identified, listed and held responsible for the activities that are being carried out on their lands.

Heroin use is a rising problem in Russia. Is that because of supply from Afghanistan or are there other important reasons?

One of the factors is certainly the colossal production in Afghanistan. Today Afghanistan produces more heroin than the whole world used to produce 10 years ago.

Another problem is that due to the disintegration of the Soviet Union, there is no longer a direct border between Afghanistan and Russia. This makes it very hard to control.

You have met with your U.S. counterpart five times. What is it you’re hoping to achieve from you visits to the U.S.?

First of all, I would like to emphasize that our cooperation has received a very positive impulse from the agreements of our presidents. In fact, Russia and the U.S. used to cooperate before and there had been certain joint actions. But now all this work is very systematic and organized. 

Back in September of 2009 when we had our first meeting and got acquainted with [U.S. Director of the Office of National Drug Policy] Gil Kerlikowske we decided to create three subgroups. The first one deals with fighting drug trafficking. The second is focused on prevention, treatment and reducing demand. And the third group focuses on improving the legislative base for fighting the drug issue. In the course of our work, it became evident that another subgroup was also necessary to deal with money laundering and injecting the criminal proceeds of the drug trade into the regular economy.

There are a whole lot of positive, practical achievements. For example, after the intensive work of our group dealing with treatment and preventive measures, we have now elaborated a number of proposals on improving our legislation and on alternative treatments instead of punishment for minor drug-related crimes. They are now being considered by the Russian Parliament.

Using a lot of American experience, I formed a number of proposals regarding the creation of a wide network of rehabilitation centers all over the Russian Federation.

In addition, we have accumulated a lot of experience in early identification of potentially new addictive substances. We exchange all the information we have with our American colleagues.

To our mutual benefit, we have also led a number of joint operations.  As a result, a number of drug trafficking channels from Afghanistan and Latin America are now closed.

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Topics: Afghanistan • Drugs • Russia

soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. bobalu

    The war against drugs is unwinnable/ Let them grow their opium and tax it.

    November 30, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Reply
    • Elva

      What rbieonsspility do the Afghan people have for the condition of Afghanistan ?Only Afghans themselves can answer that question, I believe.

      February 10, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Reply
    • Sameul

      Texas – I'm with you. Looks like a boatkehrrugh may be on the horizon with respect to CIC's strategy. We shall see...

      February 12, 2012 at 12:27 am | Reply
  2. pmcdonald

    Remember that the USA will create a war out of everything since it has resources but little human intelligence or experience. For example, it will turn Mexico and Latin America into actual war zones. The USA creates the war so that it can prosecute them because that is all it know... and it destroys entire nations on the way. In the end there will have to be a "peace on drugs". The USA will not be the nation that achieves that end though. It can't. It does not have the structural capacity for a sophisticated society-centred solution. For that you will have to look to examples from Europe.

    November 30, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Reply
    • Swaters

      Two words pmcdonald........fuc#%#% dunba$$

      December 1, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Reply
  3. j. von hettlingen

    Some 90 percent of the world's heroin comes from Afghanistan. The Taliban sustain themselves by helping protect the poppy crops and heroin production. The drugs are for export and any drug user, dearler and trafficker in the country is punished by flogging. A jail sentence is not harsh enough. Not only Russia has drug problems due to the influx from Afghanistan. Pakistan, Iran and China have also millions of drug addicts.

    November 30, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Reply
  4. Onesmallvoice

    The only viable solution to Russia's Afghan drug problem is to somehow persuade NATO to vacate that country and let the Taliban win the war. That alone would go along way toward winning the war on drugs. Back in 2001, the Taliban have almost eliminated the production of opium in Afghanistan but unfortunately, the U.S. and NATO invaded that country!

    November 30, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Reply
    • Carey6

      The taliban are the ones growing the drugs to fund their war against us!!! You are an idiot, Im just back from that hell hole. Every service member knows whats goingon right infront of them.

      November 30, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Reply
      • Donovan

        Americans show up and Afghanistan is now producing more than the whole world did before they showed up. Taliban are anti drugs, its in their religion. Call it conspiracy theory if you want but I'm sure some western players are making alot of money via this increased production and access, probably even being the ones in control.

        November 30, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
  5. TowelHeadsAreMorons

    Look Daddy!!! I got this much opium from one poppy!!!! Isn't Allah great?!!!!! Death to amerika!!! Aren't I a great son?

    November 30, 2011 at 10:23 pm | Reply
  6. Rocky

    Evil russia – this is a payback for supporting Iran and Assad !

    December 1, 2011 at 4:49 am | Reply
    • Onesmallvoice

      Here goes another ignoramus spreading his anti-Russian manure on this web page. With people like these, no wonder this country's sliding downhill!

      December 1, 2011 at 10:23 am | Reply
      • Mrs. Silence Dogood

        Despite popular belief, America is not sliding downhill, and the term, "people like this," is overused. America is still one of the wealthiest countries

        December 1, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
  7. chris

    If I remember correcly, I read about this in National Geographic years ago. The plan was to convince the farmers to stop growing the crops for the drug lords, grow things like apples etc in exchange for running water and hydro. That's out the door when the military simply grows it for themselves during this occupation. smh talk about hypocracy

    December 1, 2011 at 7:29 am | Reply
  8. Peter Willis

    It's going into Iran too.

    Can't we just buy the stuff for nothing from the Afghans and dump it

    in the ocean next to Osama Bin Laden.

    December 1, 2011 at 8:05 am | Reply
    • Alena

      Hokay. But youse guys in the know can skencir when I REFER is passing to dose paranoid riffs, yah?;-)Hey, I was mentioning the r"oil thing too often anyways. The sifters was gonna catch me. Da sifters... eeek.(But oh, the corelations!)

      February 12, 2012 at 12:51 am | Reply
  9. Jeff

    Whatever the solution, world governments should act fast. Heroin and its by products like OxyContin are killing record numbers of our youth and many adults. We need to implement strict disciplinary measures for doctors who want to abuse the system and prescribe medications without hesitation. Dirty doctors are everywhere and its time this country sits down and debates the ill effects Rx drugs are having on our society. Better prevention and better rehabilitation are key to the fight.

    December 1, 2011 at 10:43 am | Reply
  10. Russ

    To OneSmall Voice: Gee I wonder what substance is paying for the Taliban's ammunition and explosives and funds their troops? What substance do they take before battle ?

    December 1, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Reply
    • Rockwell

      While I'm sure the Taliban collect tremendous funding from the Opium & Heroin cultivation and export, but I do not think that they take it before battle. Hard-line Islam has a zero tolerance policy for intoxicants, like alcohol. So not only is it forbidden by Islam, it is a sedative and would have the fighters' falling asleep on their faces.

      December 2, 2011 at 7:00 am | Reply
  11. Rocky

    If russia accuses Afghanistan of being a nation of drug pushers,than we accuse russia of being a nation of drug addicts ! Look in the mirror, russia !

    December 1, 2011 at 9:40 pm | Reply
    • Mohammed

      The brave troops of WW II did not have aremca crews following them all over the place. And in WW II the aremca crews supported the troops and the war and did not go out of their way to embarrass the troops or make them look bad. Today the networks are a bunch of flaming liberals who will do whatever it takes to improve their ratings and further their cut and run agenda.Perhaps you should ask why are new reporters of today such jerks and not professionals like they were in WW Two.

      April 21, 2012 at 9:02 am | Reply
  12. Jaap

    As opopsed to, say, hunting a shark, I don't know what you use to build a nation. But whatever it is, we're gonna need a bigger one.

    February 9, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Reply

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