Could Russia start its own drug war in Central Asia?
Russia has recently been complaining about the U.S. and NATO's failure to stem poppy farming in Afghanistan, which fuels a growing heroin problem in Russia. The Christian Science Monitor looks at the issue, and suggests that the problem, if unchecked, may prompt future Russian intervention into the Central Asian republics:
In recent years, Russia and NATO have run a school for Afghan antidrug police in the Moscow-region town of Domodedovo, turning out hundreds of graduates. But despite that cooperation, experts say Moscow is increasingly dubious about NATO's ability to impose order in Afghanistan, and may be seeking ways to expand its influence in Central Asia against the day the United States decides to leave. Some analysts suggest that the Kremlin's recent backing of a coup in Kyrgyzstan could be a sign of more assertive behavior to come.
"The former Soviet states of central Asia are our own backyard," says Tatiana Parkhalina, director of the independent Center for European Security in Moscow. "Moscow doesn't want to stand by while the Taliban and terrorist networks convert the financial resources from drug trafficking into arms and political influence... There is a practical alliance taking shape between drug traffickers and terrorists, and it is a very big threat...."
But a few Russian experts say the Kremlin is hyping the drug issue as a pretext for becoming more assertive in Central Asia.
"The Russian state drug service tends to overestimate drug consumption in Russia; there is no independent confirmation," says Andrei Soldatov, editor of Agentura.ru, an online journal about security issues. "All of a sudden we hear a lot of declarations about how the threat is dire, and growing, and something has to be done. But it looks to me like convenient political theater, and I find it very difficult to trust all these claims."
Leaving aside the (to The Bug Pit's mind) dubious presumption that there is no doubt Russia backed the coup in Kyrgyzstan, this does seem to warrant concern. After all, Russia wouldn't be the first country to intervene abroad to fight drugs:
Ivanov told journalists that he can't understand why the US advocates destruction of coca plantations in Colombia, but seems reluctant to take the same measures in Afghanistan.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.