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.