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Since 2001, the year American and Canadian troops entered Afghanistan, heroin production has reached record levels. And a significant amount of that heroin is ending up here, in Russia. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, it is the world’s largest national market for heroin, consuming about 20 percent of all the heroin trafficked from Afghanistan annually.
There are at least 1.5 million heroin users in Russia. It’s estimated that every day 80 people die from heroin addiction.
At a press conference in May, the head of Russia’s anti-drug agency, Viktor Ivanov, told reporters that among Russia’s most important goals is the liquidation of global drug crimes at the highest levels. It’s no secret that he was referring to Afghan heroin. A map detailing the global heroin trade from Afghanistan to the world was projected on a screen behind him.
“A million people have died globally from Afghan heroin over the past 10 years,” the stern-faced, former KGB officer said.
According to Russia’s Federal Drug Control Services (FSKN) the FSKN and the U.S. military have carried out five joint operations in Afghanistan to destroy drug labs. Russia’s involvement raised the ire of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, as any presence of Russian forces remains a sensitive issue for Afghanis who remember the war with the Soviets.
Despite its focus on the issue, Russia can’t seem to stop the flow of cheap heroin across its borders from the central Asian countries of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, travel from these former Soviet Republics into Russia has remained visa free. It hasn’t helped that Russian border guards were removed from Tajikistan — which shares an 835-mile border with Afghanistan — in the summer of 2005. Government corruption has also fueled heroin traffic across central Asia and into Russia.
“Heroin defiles and corrupts everything,” said Yuri Krupnov, director of the Institute for Demography, Migration and Regional Development in Moscow. “It is such a powerful geo-economic, geo-political force, with anonymous authors, that it is impossible to confront it.”
That explains why heroin is still ending up in the veins of young people like Frolov and another addict at the rehab centre, Alexei Vanchikov.
“I can count the people who I started using drugs with who are still alive on one hand,” Vanchikov said. He has lived for five years with HIV and refuses to take medication.