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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fly-In Pushers Change Street's Face

Every city street has its own peculiar characteristics, but Mikhlukho-Maklaya Ulitsa in southwest Moscow goes even further, having acquired its own mantra that every pedestrian soon gets used to hearing.


"Got heroin? Coke? Grass?" ask passersby, generally young Russian men in pairs. Sometimes, instead of talking, they'll tilt their heads up and sniff, or else whisper the magic word for heroin in the area -- "White."


Mikhlukho-Maklaya, which runs through the heart of the Institute of the Friendship of Peoples and is lined on both sides by dormitories for African students, is one of the biggest street drug markets in the city, a place where almost any drug is available 24 hours a day.


It is the home of a new type of Moscow drug dealer -- the trafficker who flies in specifically to sell his payload and then return home. Many of the Africans standing outside the dormitories and hanging out in the cafes are not students, but opportunists who have found a new market in capitalist Russia.


Last week in Moscow, airport officials arrested two African dealers and carried a third one to the morgue when his one-kilogram heroin stash, which he carried in his stomach in condoms, burst open during his flight and killed him.


"It's just started in the last year," said Andrei Kornilov, the deputy director of the Illegal Narcotics Directorate of the Moscow police. "We used to have problems with students, but now they have people flying in specially to sell. The people we pick up all say the same thing -- we've got nothing at home, but here you can make at least a little bit of money."


Kornilov said that the number of drug arrests involving Africans has "doubled or tripled" in the last year, and added that airport arrests of "swallowers" or "mules," unheard of a year ago, are now a twice-weekly occurrence.


Edward, 28, a Mauritanian, is a regular sight on Mikhlukho-Maklaya. With his scarred, balding head covered in a ragged wool hat and his arm in a makeshift sling ("I had an accidental encounter," he said), he stands waiting for clients in doorways and bus stations outside the Park Place hotel or the Afghan cafe down the street.


If he is carrying drugs, it is usually heroin, which he holds in his mouth in ball-shaped doses wrapped in foil.


"If the police come, I can just swallow," he said. "It's not that big a dose."


Small-time transactions, including marijuana and one-hit doses of heroin or cocaine, are usually handled on the street. At almost any time of the day, but especially at night, one can find cars parked with motors running all along Mikhlukho-Maklaya. Dealers get into their clients' cars to hand over their goods. If the police appear, they drive away. The bus is another good place -- dealers and clients get on at one stop, and by the time they get off at the next, the deal is over.


Serious transactions, however, usually take place in cafes, although the "Mama Africa" Nigerian cafe in the third dormitory corpus is off-limits for dealing. The Nigerian dealers who spend their time there like to eat there, not work. As a result, their white clients -- who are generally stopped at the door -- gather around the entrance, waiting for a dealer to emerge after his meal.


The Afghan cafe is a different story. There are private tables behind curtains where money is counted and clients come in and out. Occasionally, a policeman drops in, but as The Moscow Times observed, few people are worried. The one officer who came in during a talk with Edward was sent away with a handful of money.


"Unfortunately, the African dealers enjoy some degree of protection here," Kornilov said. "They are protected by one particular Russian mafia group in particular -- I won't say which."


African students say it is the Solntsevo group, one of Russia's largest and the one formerly commanded by Vycheslav Ivankov, better known as Yaponchik, who was arrested in the United States last year.


"For a price, a share of their business, the Africans are allowed to operate free of interference from other gangs in certain areas, mainly in the southwest region," Kornilov said.


In the meantime, racial relations on Mikhlukho-Maklaya are at an all-time low. Practically every African male in the area has stories of being mistaken for a drug dealer, and to be seen in public on this street with a white person is simply asking for trouble, as many Russians believe that drugs are the only reason a black would walk alongside a white.


In fact, when a pair of reporters from this newspaper walked a 200-meter stretch from the Afghan cafe to a nearby bus station, they were stopped no fewer than five times by would-be buyers.


"It's a nightmare. It gives blacks a bad name and it makes it hard to live," said Clement, a Ghanian student living in a Mikhlukho-Maklaya dorm. "I personally can't wait to go home."