Russia Thwarts U.S. Central Asian Counterdrug Program

Russia has reportedly convinced its allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization not to participate in a new U.S. counterdrug program in Central Asia, apparently concerned that it would give the U.S. too much leverage over the regional governments. The program, called the Central Asia Counternarcotics Initiative, would promote regional cooperation in countering drug trafficking by setting up task forces in all five Central Asian countries and hooking them up with similar task forces in Afghanistan and Russia.

But Russia has apparently taken a dim view of the proposal, reports the Russian newspaper Kommersant:

Moscow is convinced that the main objective of this initiative is strengthening the military and political presence in a region that Moscow regards as its area of ​​special interests. As a result, Russia has managed to persuade the CSTO members to not participate in it.

The key problem, according to Kommersant's sources:

As planned by the United States, the task forces must have very wide powers, and most importantly, full access to secret operational information supplied to law enforcement agencies and intelligence services of the Central Asian countries. Moscow feared that this would give the U.S. an opportunity to gather sensitive information and then use these data to blackmail the governments in the region.

RFE/RL spoke with American diplomats involved in the effort, who confirmed that it was blocked:

A U.S. official familiar with the matter confirmed that Washington's delegation was unable to reach a final agreement at the meeting but said the plan has not been rejected.

Still, the official described the outcome as "a big surprise."

Susan Pittman, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, told RFE/RL that bilateral consultations with the Central Asian states would continue.

"We continue to discuss with Central Asian officials the establishment of vetted units and other types of counternarcotics assistance that the U.S. is prepared to provide," she said.

Take a step back here. Recall that Russia has for years been angry that the U.S. isn't doing more to combat drugs in Afghanistan, but the U.S. doesn't want to get more heavily involved there because it would alienate the populations whose hearts and minds the U.S. and NATO troops are trying to win. And now Russia is blocking a U.S. effort to counter drug trafficking in Central Asia. So, the U.S. wants to fight trafficking in Central Asia but not Afghanistan, and Russia wants to fight it in Afghanistan but not in Central Asia. Both countries are relegating the fight against opium trafficking to a secondary priority: for the U.S., outweighed by the desire to win in Afghanistan; for Russia, by the desire to keep the U.S. out of Central Asia. Is it any wonder, then, that the drug trade continues to flourish?

Russia Thwarts U.S. Central Asian Counterdrug Program

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