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U.S. Department of State
1997 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, March 1998

United States Department of State

Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs

Europe and Central Asia


I. Summary

Russia experienced a marked increase in narcotics cases in 1997. Empowered by the changes in the criminal code which came into effect January 1, 1997, Russian police handled 80 percent more drug cases nationwide in 1997 than in 1996, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD). The biggest operation conducted in Russia in 1997 involved a 200-kilogram shipment of cocaine from Venezuela (partially) seized in the city of Bratsk in southern Siberia with the cooperation of British law enforcement. Poppy straw and cannabis products predominate drug trafficking cases, but domestic consumption of cocaine, heroin, amphetamines and synthetics--drugs formerly largely destined for foreign markets--has increased. Organized crime elements are finding their way into the international drug trade, primarily in areas such as distribution and money laundering. Lack of effective regulation in the banking, financial and commercial sectors provide favorable conditions for money laundering, but there is insufficient information to determine how much of the money illicitly filtering through the system is derived from narcotics trafficking. Limited resources hamper government drug control efforts. Russia is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention.

II. Status of Country

Greater openness since the break-up of the Soviet Union has made Russia a prime conduit for illicit drugs, largely destined for western European markets. Russia is also a minor producer of illicit amphetamines, cannabis and opium poppy, mostly supplying domestic consumption. For the domestic market, illicit drugs primarily come from the country's immediate neighbors in the form of cannabis, opium and opium derivatives. Asian heroin and South American cocaine, however, are also part of the problem. The number of registered drug users continued to grow. Mini-Dublin Group information indicates that cocaine consumption in Moscow has reached 10 kilograms per day.

Ethnic Russian criminal groups control most narcotics trafficking and distribution in the country, with the active participation of members of ethnic groups from around the New Independent States and other countries. Control over various types of drugs continues to be divided among different groups who have established proprietary niches, often to avoid disputes. In general, Afghans, Tajiks and other central Asians traffic heroin, opium and opium derivatives in European Russia and western Siberia, while Vietnamese and Chinese traffic the drugs through eastern Siberia; Ukrainians center on cannabis; Nigerians and other Africans predominate in cocaine; and Azerbaijanis in the synthetic drug market.

The lack of effective border controls with Mongolia and China has facilitated an increase in international drug trafficking through that region. Exploiting international air links, Nigerian and South American traffickers continue to route cocaine through Moscow and other major Russian cities.

Russian authorities suspect that the privatization of chemical laboratories may have led to the use of such facilities for illicit purposes. The country's well-developed chemical industry is also a possible conduit for illicit drug operations. The industry exports small quantities of precursor and essential chemicals, primarily acetic anhydride, to industries in eastern Europe and Finland. Penalties for diversion of chemicals are relatively weak and ineffective.

III. Country Actions Against Drugs in 1997

Policy Initiatives. Russia focused its counternarcotics efforts on strengthening legislation and enforcing existing laws. The new criminal code empowered law enforcement agencies to act more effectively against drugs with provisions penalizing production, possession, sale and transport of narcotics. Possession of small amounts of drugs is treated as a misdemeanor. The MVD also tasked its personnel across the board to pursue drug offenders. A stricter counternarcotics law is under consideration in the state Duma (Parliament).

To better address the problem of money laundering, the Government of Russia (GOR) reintroduced in the Duma draft legislation in October. The draft passed its first reading in mid-November and the two subsequent requisite readings are scheduled for December. Similar legislation failed to pass in 1996, coming in some 20 votes shy of the number needed for approval. At present, only Article 174 of the Criminal Code addresses money laundering.

Recognizing the threat of cross-border crime, including drug trafficking, the Office of the Procurator General has authorized prosecutors from border regions to work directly with their neighboring counterparts. The Procuracy also hosted a regional conference in December which prosecutors and other high-ranking law enforcement representatives from throughout the NIS attended. In April, Russia co-sponsored a conference with the UNDCP in which the GOR highlighted the severe budgetary and economic restraints which hamper GOR counternarcotics efforts.

Law Enforcement Efforts. In March 1997, Internal Affairs Minister Kulikov was tasked by the President to coordinate the efforts of law enforcement agencies against organized crime. In his capacity as one of the country's Deputy Prime Ministers, Kulikov can conduct joint operations with the Federal Tax Service, the Tax Police, Customs Committee personnel and the Committee on (hard) Currency and Export Control (VEK). Russian police handled 80 percent more drug cases nationwide in 1997 than in 1996, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), bringing the total to 150,000 in the first ten months of 1997. In some parts of the country, the increase was higher. Drug cases in the city of St. Petersburg, for example, rose by 120 percent. In the Russian far east, in regions bordering Mongolia and China, drug cases increased three-fold. The biggest operation conducted in Russia in 1997 involved a 200-kilogram shipment of cocaine from Venezuela seized in the city of Bratsk in southern Siberia with the cooperation of British law enforcement.

Cultivation and Production. Although there are no official statistics on the extent of opium cultivation, the USG has no evidence to suggest that mroe than 1,000 hectares of opium are cultivated. Wild cannabis is estimated to cover some 1.5 million hectares in the eastern part of the country. The USG has no evidence that 5,000 hectares or more are being harvested, but we will, of course, continue to monitor this situation.

Corruption. There have been no reported cases of narcotics-related corruption that facilitates the production, processing, or shipment of narcotic and psychotropic drugs and other controlled substances or that discourages the investigation or prosecution of such acts. A draft law on corruption passed its first Duma reading in the fall. Non-narcotic related corruption is becoming more manifest at lower and mid-levels of government and law enforcement agencies, according to the MVD. More than 5,000 bribery cases were handled by the MVD in the first ten months of 1997, an 8 percent increase over the similar period in 1996. There were more than 3,000 cases involving police officers.

In Tajikistan, drug trafficking groups have established links with elements of the Russian and Tajik border guards.

Demand Reduction. Drug abuse prevention, treatment, and public awareness programs are limited. Scholastic counternarcotics education programs are generally conducted only in Moscow and other major cities. Some non-governmental organizations now sponsor demand reduction programs around the country.

Agreements and Treaties. Russia is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention, the 1961 UN Single Convention and its 1972 Protocol, and the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances. In 1995, the Russian Border Service concluded an agreement with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to reinforce trilateral counternarcotics cooperation on the borders with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran. A Customs Union consisting of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus was also established in 1995. Russia is a party to the 1992 Kiev Treaty on Cooperation in Inter-Regional Drug Investigations.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on counternarcotics cooperation signed between the US and the Soviet Union in January, 1989 remains in force. Also in force is an agreement signed between the two countries a year later, in January 1990. The Russian Border Service concluded an MOU with the US Coast Guard in 1995 which includes provisions for maritime drug interdiction. In February 1996, an Executive Agreement on Mutual Legal Assistance between Russia and the US entered into force. In its Annex, the Executive Agreement addresses illicit traffic in narcotics and psychotropic substances as well as money laundering. Russia and the US have completed two rounds of negotiations of a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) and hope to conclude the negotiations soon. There is no Extradition Treaty in force between Russia and the United States. Although the United States has agreed to enter into extradition discussions after the conclusion of the MLAT, there are many difficult issues that will be faced including, but not limited to, the fact that the Russian Constitution prohibits the extradition of nationals. Russia is a party to the WCO's International Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance for the Prevention, Investigation, and Repression of Customs Offences "Nairobi Convention" Annex X on Assistance in Narcotics Cases. The USG has concluded a Customs Mutual Assistance Agreement (CMAA) with the Government of Russia.

IV. US Policy Initiatives and Programs

Bilateral Cooperation. The principal US goal is to assist Russia in integrating its counternarcotics efforts into international efforts against drug trafficking and to strengthen Russian institutions to address the problem domestically. The US requires that assistance agreements provide that the receiving country exempt assistance from duty and tax. Cooperative efforts were facilitated by the expansion of the DEA office in Moscow and training by numerous US law enforcement agencies. The US trained police, customs, border service and procuracy personnel throughout the year, with an emphasis on organized crime, narcotics trafficking and money laundering. As part of this program, more than 3,300 officials have been trained in Russia, the US, and the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in Budapest since 1994.

A US-Russia Agreement to provide drug control assistance, equipment and training has stalled. The draft Agreement provides that the receiving country should exempt assistance from duty and tax. This provision falls outside existing Russian legislation, according to the GOR, and it therefore cannot commit to such an obligation. Tax legislation which may open the way is under consideration in the Russian legislature.

The Road Ahead. The USG will continue to work with Russia as it expands its counternarcotics efforts. Greater inroads can be expected as Russia moves to develop the legislative base through which to address drug trafficking at home and abroad. The US will also continue to provide training aimed at strengthening institutions and law enforcement efforts.


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