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Drug-trafficking is one of the most serious and socially dangerous challenges for national (including border) security of Russia and its neighbors (Azerbaijan, Byelorussia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia). According to official information, the number of drug addicts in Russia is about 400 000 persons, but by expert estimations it measures up to 3-4 millions. Two thirds of them are young people not older than 30. During the last ten years the number of drug addicts in Russia has increased in nine times while the annual income of narcomafia is estimated by sums from 8 to 18 billions of US dollars.

The strategy of response for this challenge is only in the stage of elaboration now. It is determined by the combination of various factors including not only the problem itself but also its perception by decision-makers, interests of Russian political elites and external actors (EU, other international organizations etc.). The current policy stresses on military and police measures that manifests itself in increasing expenditures for border control and in toughening of migration policy. At the same time demand reduction and narcological programs (including regional programs carrying out in border regions) from year to year often don’t get any sufficient financial support. There is also an anxious tendency not only to call for extraordinary measures and additional funding (actually, at the expense of education, health protection etc.) but also to justify violations of human rights and ethnic groups by the necessity to struggle with narcomafia, and to portray critics of such a policy and violations as “accomplices of the mob”.

Taking into account these considerations, there is a strong necessity for well-reasoned critical evaluation of the mentioned policy including the measures for responding transboundary trafficking. The common key questions for such an estimation are: a) How much effective are military and police measures in response to narcotraffic through Russian borders? b) In which cases this policy can be found successful and why? c) In what extent demand reduction measures can be effective? d) In what cases re-distribution of funds from “force measures” to demand reduction will be useful? c) Taking into account that citizens of CIS states and “ethnic criminal groupings” often play key in transboundary drug-trafficking, what way security strategy and measures can be combined with observation of human rights and maintaining close relations between Russia and other post-Soviet countries?

In the course of the project the mentioned estimation will be done by the use of such methods as structural-functional analysis of transboundary narcotraffic through Russia, analysis of drugs related statistics (concerning situation at the main trafficking routes and in border regions), expert estimations, event analysis of cases of traffickers’ arrests.

The structure of drug-trafficking through Russian borders is determined by many factors: demand, geography of drug producing, routes, reaction of narcodealers to the responding measures of state and international agencies.

Drugs are brought to Russia through several main directions. Russia-Kazakhstan border is the main of them because of its week landscape barrierness, well-developed network of transboundary communications and actual transparency. Less volume of narcotics is smuggled through Russia’s borders with Transcaucasian states and China, Ukraine, Byelorussia, and Baltic countries. The main routes of drug-trafficking are originated from Afghanistan (heroin and opium) and Tshu (Chu) valley area at Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan borderland (cannabis drugs), less important come from Ukraine (poppy straw), and EU countries (synthetic drugs and cocaine). After crossing Russian border the most intensive flows of heroine, opium and cannabis are directed to Central (Moscow) and Northern-Western (St. Petersburg) Russia and partially further westwards to EU states, to the Volga and the Ural regions, Caucasian resorts (Krasnodar and Stavropol regions), gas-and-oil producing areas of Western Siberia. It is important that according to official estimations the levels of drug consumption and drug-related crimes in the region bordering Kazakhstan and Transcaucasian states is noticeably higher than in Russia on average. In such administrative regions as Krasnodar krai; Astrakhan, Novosibirsk, and Tiumen oblasts the rate of drug-related criminal activity is higher than in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The structural organization of narco-business evolves from the prevalence of individuals and small groups into strengthening of large and branchy groupings some of which created well-organized system of functional positions for the stages of producing, processing (e.g. from opium to heroin), smuggling, wholesale trade, retailment etc. Nevertheless, there are no sufficient grounds to affirm that the transboundary drug-trafficking through Russia evolves into strict centralization and even more into monopolization. The role of “ethnic criminal groupings” is great at some stages of narcotraffic, especially at smuggling and wholesale trade. But taking into account official statistic data on criminal cases against drug-traffickers, representatives of ethnic minorities or “ethnic criminal groupings” don’t have the main importance within the whole process of narcotraffic. In many cases the composition of such criminal groupings is international while large lots of drugs more and more often are smuggled by Russian citizens or “ethnic Europeans” whose appearance arouse less suspicions.

Trying to provide safety for their smuggling operations drug-traffickers attempt to establish corruption ties with officials from border and structures, who are able to facilitate transboundary transportation of narcotics, save from criminal responsibility or even give back confiscated drugs. Among the mentioned structures are border guard and customs services, regional branches of the Agency for Control other Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Narkokontrol’), police etc. Amounts of bribes proposed (especially at the stage of border and customs control) can be hundreds times as great as the salary of these structures’ officials. However, the risk of serious punishment, possibilities for less risky illegal income (assistance for smuggling of consumer goods) and informal rules (for example, assistance to drug-dealers is been censured even among bribable customs officials) in some extent restrains the increase of “narco-corruption” within structures controlling Russian borders.

On the whole, the smugglers have a wide range of ways to avoid border and customs control. The most of drugs are brought through existing checkpoints and, taking into account these possibilities, there are no grounds to assume that more than 5-10% of such contraband is seized. Local achievements in some border regions (due to which in 2003-2004 the prices for heroin increased significantly) are concerned first with the struggle against wholesale and retail structures and probably will cause only their reorganization. Unfortunately, demand reduction programs are poorly financed both in border regions and in national level. Meanwhile, the international experience shows that such programs can bring great effect with far less significant investments than for military and police measures.


- The stress on the closure of borders as the panacea for the struggle against transboundary drug-trafficking is inexpedient as the most of smuggling goes through the existing checkpoints while imperfection of inspection procedures and low salaries of officials (working for border guard and customs services, police of border regions and districts) make evident breaches within the system of control at Russian borders.

- The demand reduction should have more importance in national and regional antinarcotics programs especially in border provinces and the regions situated at the main routes of narcotraffic. Taking into account special vulnerability of enormously lengthy Russian boundaries, huge expenses required for establishment of full-fledged border control with sufficient salaries for responsible officials, Russian decision-makers should pay far more attention to demand reduction.

- Both decision-makers and community should yield to no attempts to use the necessity of the struggle with drug-trafficking for justification of extraordinary measures causing gross violations of human rights. Because of the mentioned reasons such measures will hardly bring essential improvement, but their can pose a serious threat to democracy and human rights of Russian citizens.

I am working on a policy project  Drug-Trafficking as a Challenge for Russia's Security and Border Policies

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