Russia and the EU: the search for common ground on Afghanistan
On January 18, 2008, Russian Federal Drug Control Service Director Viktor Ivanov and European Parliament member Pino Arlacchi, author of the new EU strategy for Afghanistan, held a press conference at which the parties expressed very similar views on the processes taking place in Afghanistan.
According to statistics, Russia and the EU are the world’s main consumers of heroin. As many as 1.5 million people have become drug addicts in the EU. In Russia, 30 thousand people die each year from drugs; this is three times greater than all Soviet casualties in Afghanistan during 10 years of war. The total number of deaths attributed to heroin in the world last year was 92 thousand. Heroin comes to us only from Afghanistan, where opiate production has increased 40 fold over the last eight years.
Pino Arlacchi stressed that Europe and the United States underestimate the level of the Afghan drug trafficking threat. Recent years have demonstrated the ineffectiveness of NATO’s methods; urgent reallocation of the funds that have been allocated is necessary. And the money must be directed not only to combat drug traffickers but also to develop agriculture and create new jobs in Afghanistan in legitimate businesses: “When we speak of the eradication of narcotics we also need to remember about other approaches—fighting corruption and creating jobs. The European Union alone spends one billion euros annually on Afghanistan, and it would be sufficient if only one third of those funds went to develop agriculture in the country.'”
The EU looks with skepticism on the Russian projects to combat drug production in Afghanistan. For example, 28 thousand Afghan narcotics policeman received special training in Moscow during 2009. Their task is to study the problem of heroin production and transit, eradicate crops and destroy the infrastructure and industrial base of the drug cartels. And as soon as they returned home, 26 out of the 28 highly qualified specialists were dismissed. Does this mean that the United States are not actually interested in reducing the production of drugs in Afghanistan as Richard Holbrook, the US president’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said in June 2009?
Pino Arlacchi particularly highlighted the US reasons for continuing the military campaign in Afghanistan. From his point of view, they primarily involve that country’s military budget, which is larger than the total military budget of all of the countries in the world taken together and comprises up to 12% of the US budget, while the average amount spent on military needs in Europe is about 1% of budgetary funds. He said that Europe does not benefit from participating in the military campaign in Afghanistan in its present form. In return, Europe gets only heroin and the criminalization of society and the government corruption that it entails. Pino Arlacchi noted that European banks received millions from criminal drug gangs in 2009, which saved them from the crisis. However, this resulted in the criminalization and destabilization of private banks due to deposits of criminal drug money.
These facts suggest the adverse effects of the US counterterrorist operation on the drug situation in the world and the need for Russia and Europe to jointly come up with innovative solutions regarding Afghanistan. At the next meeting of the European Union government, the issue of establishing an international commission at the initiative of Russia and the EU will be raised; this commission would become directly involved in the strategy for eliminating Afghan heroin production and distribution channels. Hopefully the majority of the European Union will support this initiative, and that a revised EU strategy regarding Afghanistan will be elaborated.
Alexander Sotnichenko is a Cand. Sc. (History), Senior analyst of the Saint-Petersburg Modern Middle East Research Centre.