One in every 50 working-age Russians is an addict, according to Russia’s top drugs official, Viktor Ivanov. This level of Russian consumption per capita could be as much as eight times higher than the overall rate in the European Union. Russia’s underclass of more than two million hard-drug addicts – out of population of over 142 million – pose “a threat to our national security, our society, and our civilization ” Ivanov said.
The main source of heroin for the Russian market is Afghanistan, and the growing market for Russians addicts is a major asset for the Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Rather than money, the Taliban drug lords barter their shipments for weapons. “We never sell the drugs for money,” boasted one of the smugglers. “We exchange them for ammunition and Kalashnikovs.” Smugglers say that Russian arms dealers meet Taliban drug-lords at bazaars near the old Afghan-Soviet border, deep in the desert of Tajikistan.
The overall traffic indicates that heroin-related products are smuggled to Russia via several routes: 30 percent of its heroin and morphine-base and 79 percent of its opium went through Iran in 2007, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The figures were 51 percent and 13 percent for Pakistan and 19 percent and 7 percent for the Central Asian republics, notably Kazakhstan which has a porous border with Russia extending for 7,000 kilometers. (4,375 miles).
According to Ivanov, Russia has also become the world’s absolute leader in the opiate trade and the number one heroin consumer. An estimated 90 percent of those addicted to drugs in Russia use Afghan products. The drug traffic number continues to rise. “Mr. Ivanov said that “the level of Afghan drugs production now is 44 times higher than it was in 2001.” This sky-rocketing production can be linked to the US military drive to crush the Taliban in Afghanistan, he said, because the insurgents need the cash and supplies from they can get from the heroin.
This traffic is “filling the coffers of the Taliban”. US State Department agrees: “Opium is a source of literally billions of dollars to extremist and criminal groups… [C]utting down the opium supply is central to establishing a secure and stable democracy, as well as winning the global war on terrorism”.
In Russia, the drug problem is becoming a dire challenge for civil society. Once addicted, a Russian heroin-user addict has a life expectancy of seven years.
In current trends, opium is replacing vodka as the opiate of the people predicted by one of communism’s founders, Karl Marx. “Drugs have already become a part of youth culture here,” said Alexander Mikhailov, a senior staff scientist and research group leader in the Fritz Haber Institute, the prestigious German science research institute.
Coupled with low birth-rates, the opium toll among younger Russians poses a grave threat to Russia’s future.