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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Asks $177M in Aid To Fight Drug Trafficking

Russia is seeking about $177 million in foreign assistance to help tackle the country's mounting drug problem, officials said at a UN-sponsored international conference on drug control that ended Thursday in Moscow.

That is what Moscow says it will take to fund a four-year program to beef up law enforcement measures, reduce the demand for drugs and treat drug abuse.

Russia hopes to raise the money through pledges from international organizations and 24 potential donor countries -- including European Union member states, the United States and Japan -- which were represented at the two-day conference.

Privately, donor representatives conceded they thought there was little chance of raising such a sum. They said the figure would, in any case, need "further research."

Even so, the countries have a stake in helping Russia combat its drug problem, which includes rising drug traffic to Europe via Russia from Central Asia.

Russian officials are increasingly worried about the social effects of a rise in illegal drug use and trafficking since the collapse of the Soviet Union made the country's borders more permeable.

"The number of drug-related crimes has grown five or six times in the last 10 years," said Lieutenant General Alexander Sergeyev, head of the Interior Ministry's drug control department. "The number of drug users has also increased five or six times."

New drugs like cocaine, heroin and amphetamines, not available in Russia a decade ago, have also arrived, he added. "More than 50 percent of narcotics arrive here from abroad," he said.

Many synthetic drugs enter Russia from Europe, while cocaine enters from Latin America. Opium and heroin arrive from Afghanistan via Central Asia and from the Golden Crescent -- Turkey, Iran and Pakistan -- and the Golden Triangle, which includes border regions of Burma, Thailand and Laos.

In a presentation to the conference, Sergeyev said there are now more than 200 illicit narcotics laboratories in Russia. Narcotics use grew 35 percent in 1995, he said.

There are now thought to be about 2 million drug abusers in Russia compared with 1 million in 1990. This figure could reach 3.5 million by the year 2000.

Russia's drug problem is still smaller than that of some Western countries, said Derek Plumbly, Britain's international drugs coordinator. Britain has about 3 million occasional or regular drug users, he said.

As for drug transit, drug seizures in Britain and elsewhere in Europe indicate that most heroin and opium arriving from Afghanistan -- the world's largest producer -- still comes via the "southern route" through Turkey, rather than the newer northern route through Central Asia and Russia.

Concerns was voiced at the conference, however, that Russia could soon become a major conduit for illegal drugs from central and southern Asia. It could also become a major producer of synthetic drugs such as amphetamines.

The involvement of Russian organized crime groups in the drug trade was also discussed, since such organizations launder huge drugs profits by investing overseas. Currently Russia lacks proper legislation against money laundering.