In a nondescript office in Kazakhstan’s commercial capital, Almaty, a group of men and women observed a minute’s silence one day recently. They were told to focus their thoughts on a person “whose life is dependent on drugs” -- a subject with which they could empathize.
The volume of narcotics flowing out of Afghanistan to Central Asia and Russia appears to have decreased slightly over the past year. But the stockpile of opiates that traffickers already have on hand is sufficient to supply users in Central Asia and Russia for 15 years, according to a leading drug-control expert in Kyrgyzstan.
Russia has reportedly blocked a U.S. plan designed to help stem the flow of drugs from Afghanistan through Central Asia in a sign of Moscow's continued wariness about Washington's intentions in a region often thought of as "Russia's backyard."
As US-led forces gear up to downsize in Afghanistan, Moscow is increasingly worried about the possibility of militants, drugs and instability seeping into Central Asia. This growing concern is pushing the Kremlin to seek a more hands-on role in Central Asian border security.
Neat fields of white poppy flowers dot the landscape along the roads outside of the city of Afyonkarahisar in western Turkey. The city and surrounding Afyon province are both named after the opium poppy that has grown here for millennia.
It’s clear the Kremlin has its doubts about the ability of US and NATO troops to contain Islamic militants in Afghanistan. Thus, it’s not surprising that Russian officials are expressing a desire to redeploy border forces along the Tajik-Afghan frontier. At the same time, it appears that Russia wants international back-up.
As Russian President Dmitry Medvedev prepares to make an appearance in Lisbon during the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit on November 19-20, Russian officials are pushing for the Atlantic Alliance to demonstrate a greater spirit of cooperation with Moscow in combating drug production in Afghanistan.
Russia’s recent involvement in an anti-drug operation in Afghanistan indicates that the exigencies of the present crisis outweigh the burdens of past actions for Moscow. While Russian leaders appear ready to take Kabul’s feelings into account, the Kremlin is no longer willing to let its past sins keep Russia on the sidelines in Afghanistan.
Russian frustration is rising with NATO’s “incomprehensible passivity” in efforts to contain Afghanistan’s growing drugs output. It has reached a point where some politicians in Moscow are starting to call for an active Russian military presence in Central Asia.