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1998 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report

Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
United States Department of State
February 26, 1999


I. Summary

Belarus has the potential to become a major narcotics crossroads and a synthetic drug production site. Located between Russia and the West, its good rail and road infrastructure, and a customs union with Russia that eliminated internal borders contribute Belarus' attractiveness as a smuggling corridor. Deteriorating economic conditions and a sharp drop in real wages have dislocated many workers. The Government of Belarus (GOB) currently lacks both the legislative framework and the financial resources to combat drug trafficking. Belarus has many of the same organized crime problems that face other countries of the Former Soviet Union. Weak or non-existent laws on organized crime could lead syndicates to use Belarus not only for drug trafficking, but also drug production and other related crimes such as money laundering.

II. Status of Country

According to Ministry of Health data, the number of officially registered drug addicts in 1998 totaled 1069, however, these figures do not take into account latent addicts estimated to be ten times that number. Although most Belarussian addicts use products made of opium poppy, poppy oil or cannabis, other narcotics such as heroin, cocaine, barbiturates, and synthetic drugs are being used in increasing amounts.

According to the GOB, registered incidences of crimes related to illicit drug trafficking have held at a level of 2.1 percent of all crimes reported during the past three years. These crimes included: stealing narcotic and illegal stimulants; organizing or maintaining drug dens; and forging medical documents with the purpose of procuring illegal drugs. The Minsk office of the UN High Commission on Refugees reports that illegal immigrants in Belarus, attempting to travel to the West, often finance their trips through narcotics smuggling.

III. Country Actions Against Drugs in 1998

Policy Initiatives. In 1998, Belarussian efforts at narcotics control centered on interdiction. Responsibility for investigating and discovering narcotics-related crime is divided among the Ministry of Internal Affairs, National Security Service (KGB), Customs Committee, Border Guards, and Ministry of Health. Even with many agencies responsible for drug interdiction, resources are scarce and officers are spread thin because of other non-drug-related responsibilities. An interagency commission for combating crimes and drug abuse, established in 1995, is charged with coordinating the activities of these agencies, as well as that of state committees, public associations, and international organizations. There are few efforts in Belarus at drug education and use prevention. Public opinion is generally against the criminalizing of drug use, especially cannabis.

Cultivation and Production. Opium poppies and hemp are cultivated or grow wild in Belarus. Most recent GOB figures show that 33488 square meters of poppies and 1042 square meters of hemp were destroyed. Regional addicts convert the locally-produced opium poppy straw into an extract which is injected.

Drug Flow/Transit. Belarus continues to grow in importance as a transit country. Opiates and cannabis products from Central Asia or the Caucasus region are routed through Belarus to destinations in Western Europe. Good rail and road connections running east to west and north to south are used to transport narcotics from Ukraine, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Russia to the Baltic States, Poland, and Germany. Incidents of drug transportation destined for Poland and Germany have increased dramatically as a result of the customs union that eliminated internal borders between Belarus and Russia.

Mutual Legal Assistance. Belarus has joined regional efforts at law enforcement cooperation and has also signed bilateral agreements on cooperation against drug trafficking and organized crime. Belarus is a member of Interpol and has a department of 12 people dealing with issues of crime that transcend national borders. Belarus law has no provision for extradition to other countries.

Law Enforcement Efforts. Although directed by a presidential decree to intensify their efforts to combat organized crime and its enterprises, Belarussian law enforcement agencies made no significant increase in arrests and seized only small quantities of trafficked narcotics.

Demand Reduction. Belarus has not yet formulated a national drug abuse prevention strategy. The main emphasis is to achieve detoxification, physical stabilization and rehabilitation from current drug addiction problems. Treatment for drug addicts is generally performed in psychiatric hospitals, either through arrest or self-enrollment. Knowledge is lacking on how to further assist addicts with psychological counseling and social rehabilitation. Only limited efforts are devoted to preventive and educational programs.

Agreements and Treaties. Belarus is a party to the 1988 UN Convention, the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and 1972 Protocol, and the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances.

IV. U.S. Policy Initiatives and Programs

Bilateral Cooperation. Since February 1997, USG policy toward the Government of Belarus has been one of selective engagement. As this policy includes minimizing official contacts and has curtailed assistance to the state sector, the USG has not conducted or funded law enforcement training or related programs in Belarus since that time.

Multilateral Cooperation. Belarus signed an agreement on drug control assistance with Italy, and planed similar agreements with Austria, Bulgaria, Sweden and Germany. The GOB has also signed interstate treaties on assistance with Lithuania and China, and Belarus is a party to the CIS convention on legal assistance regarding civil, family, and criminal cases.

The Road Ahead. Any future USG assistance to the Government of Belarus in the area of counter-narcotics would take into consideration demonstrated improvements in Belarus democratization and respect for human rights. It is possible that upon programmatic review, the USG would consider assistance to Belarussian non-governmental organizations, especially in the area of demand reduction.

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