Russia gives U.S. Afghan drugs data, criticizes NATO

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s top drugs official gave a list of Afghan and Central Asian drug barons to U.S. anti-drugs tsar Gil Kerlikowske Sunday, but criticized U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan for failing to stem opium output.

Russia is the world’s biggest per capita user of heroin -- all of it flowing from Afghanistan -- and President Dmitry Medvedev has called drug abuse among the country’s youth a threat to national security.

“I handed him (Kerlikowske) over a list of nine ... people living in Afghanistan or elsewhere in Central Asia and involved in drug trafficking by supplying wholesale batches of narcotics,” Russia’s drug enforcement chief Viktor Ivanov told a news conference.

Moscow is willing to prosecute the suspects.

Ivanov said he met Kerlikowske, director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, at a Moscow airport during Kerlikowske’s stopover en route to Stockholm -- their fourth meeting in less than a year.

He said Russia had earlier supplied the names of around 25 other people involved in drug trade, as well as data on 175 drug laboratories operating in Afghanistan.

“To destroy these drug laboratories is the most urgent task, because these are already well-established cartels, with a stable hierarchy and structure, funding sources and technological equipment to produce narcotics,” Ivanov said.

Ivanov said Russia annually consumed 35 metric tones of heroin alone. If counted with other Afghan-made opiates, Russia’s per capita consumption of opium was the biggest in the world.


However, while praising Moscow’s cooperation with Washington in some aspects of the anti-drug fight, Ivanov criticized the U.S.-led coalition of NATO states fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan for failing to eradicate opium output there.

He said Afghanistan accounted for 95 percent of the world’s heroin output. The country now produces each year twice as much heroin than the entire world produced 10 years ago, he said.

In March, NATO rejected Russian calls for it to eradicate opium poppy fields in Afghanistan and urged Moscow to give more assistance against the insurgency.

NATO spokesman James Appathurai said at the time that it was impossible to remove the only source of income for Afghan farmers without being able to provide them with an alternative.

“Where is the logic here? To destroy a plant is much cheaper than ... catching it later on the streets of Berlin, Rome, London, Moscow and so on,” Ivanov said.

Opiates flow to Russia across Central Asia’s often porous borders. Up to 2.5 million Russians are drug addicts, and some 90 percent of them use heroin. Each year 30,000 Russian drug users die and 80,000 people try narcotics for the first time.

Ivanov said Russia accounted for a fifth of the world’s market of opiates estimated at a total of $65 billion.

He said Moscow would host an international forum on June 9-10 sponsored by the Kremlin where Russia would raise its concerns and call for the creation of an anti-drug coalition.

Editing by Alison Williams