Asia Crisis

Russia says Afghan heroin habit threatens security

* Russia now world No. 1 heroin consumer

* Heroin causes crime wave, population fall

* Russia wants international action on Afghan drug problem

MOSCOW, March 6 (Reuters) - Russia has become the world's biggest heroin consumer and the flood of the drug from Afghanistan poses a threat to national security, Russia's drug enforcement chief said on Friday.

Viktor Ivanov said the international community's failure to uproot poppy plantations in Afghanistan, as envisaged by a 10-year U.N. plan adopted in 1998, had caused heroin to flood into Russia across Central Asia's porous borders.

"In recent years Russia has not just become massively hooked on Afghan opiates, it has also become the world's absolute leader in the opiate trade and the number one heroin consumer," he said in a report made available to reporters.

Ivanov, head of the Federal Drug Control Service, said 90 percent of Russian addicts now took Afghan heroin and the drug was partly to blame for rising crime and a fall in Russia's population.

Russia would press for a tough action plan on Afghanistan at a high-level meeting of the U.N.-sponsored Commission on Narcotic Drugs to be held in Vienna on March 11-12, he said.

"Our people are dying. Some 90 percent of drug addicts in Russia are on Afghan heroin," Ivanov said. "This is a threat to national security and to our country's society."

Health Ministry officials say Russia has up to 2.5 million drug addicts out of a population of some 140 million. Most addicts were aged 18-39 and lived seven years at most after starting to take heroin.

Afghanistan, which produces 93 percent of the world's heroin, has been ravaged by decades of civil war and a U.S.-led international coalition is currently battling Islamist insurgency in the Central Asian state.

In a sign of its concern over Afghanistan, Moscow last month agreed to increase support for resupply shipments for NATO's operations in Afghanistan across its territory, despite differences with the United States over its war with Georgia last summer, NATO expansion eastwards and missile defence.

"It is time the world community got serious about the Afghan drug problem," Ivanov said. Poppy crops should be sprayed with defoliants and farmers offered incentives to cease production.


Ivanov, who did not say which country Russia had replaced as the top heroin user, estimated the addiction cost Russia 3 percent of its annual gross domestic product, which in 2008 totalled about $1.7 trillion.

He said it was impossible to control Russia's 7,000-km (4,375-mile) border with Kazakhstan through which drugs arrive. Some 3.5 tonnes (7,700 lb) of heroin was intercepted last year, a 17.5 percent rise on 2007. But in the first two months of this year, 400 kilos (880 lb) were seized, a 70-percent increase on the same year-ago period, he said.

"It is real luck if 20 percent (of total trafficked volumes) are intercepted," he admitted. "Usually it's 10 percent."

"Drug trafficking has become a key negative factor for demography and a blow to our nation's gene pool," said Ivanov.

"This is why the issue of output and heroin smuggling from Afghanistan must be seen today as a challenge to Russia's civilisation."

High mortality and low birth rates were one part of the problem, while fast growing criminality was another, he said.

"Today's situation with Russia's intoxication by Afghan heroin is unprecedented for the last 100 years," Ivanov said. "It can only be compared to the situation in China at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries."

A century ago, China faced an opium epidemic. In 1906, almost a quarter of Chinese men consumed opium brought by British merchants from India, and some 5 percent of the total Chinese population was addicted. (Editing by Jon Boyle)