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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cherkesov Sets Sights on Afghan Drug Trade

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan-- Drug control chief Viktor Cherkesov on Wednesday called for stronger global pressure on Afghanistan to reduce the drug flow from there.

World leaders and international organizations have to make "a political decision" to put joint pressure on Afghanistan to reduce production of drugs, Cherkesov, chief of Russia's new anti-drug agency, told reporters after meeting with Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe.

Cherkesov also said his agency and the Tajik anti-drug bodies agreed to increase cooperation through holding joint anti-drug operations and sharing information.

Cherkesov said his agency would soon open a permanent office in Tajikistan that would "allow the maximum use of both Russia's and Tajikistan's resources" in fighting drugs.

In Kiev, Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah on Wednesday warned that drug trafficking jeopardized the postwar construction of his country and urged the international community to increase the resources needed to fight the flow of narcotics.

Wednesday's remarks came a day after Cherkesov's deputy Alexander Mikhailov said a rising tide of heroin from Afghanistan has swept through Russia, with drug traders quickly spreading their operations across the country's 11 time zones and distributing drugs among young children.

"A heroin attack from the south has become the most acute problem for us," Mikhailov told reporters in Moscow.

Officials last month reported the nation's largest-ever drug bust -- 420 kilograms of heroin found in a truck stopped just outside Moscow -- and Mikhailov said Tuesday that the bust had a street value of more than $22 million.

During the first half of this year, Russian border guards alone have confiscated 2.9 metric tons of drugs, half of it heroin, Mikhailov said. The amount of drugs seized accounts for roughly 10 percent of the actual flow, he said.

Russia has between 3 million and 4 million drug users out of a population of about 145.5 million, and the consumption of heroin has jumped 23 times between 1998 and 2002, Mikhailov said.

He said about 70 percent of heroin in Russia originated in Afghanistan, which accounts for about three-quarters of the world's opium, the raw material for producing heroin.

While Moscow, St. Petersburg, the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad and Yekaterinburg have remained the main drug hubs, many small and medium cities have also developed a drug habit, Mikhailov said.

Official corruption has helped encourage the drug flow. "Criminal investigations in the Rostov and Yekaterinburg regions have revealed that police were part of the drug business," Mikhailov said.

Drug prevention programs are virtually absent in Russia, and the disappearance of Soviet-era government-funded sports and recreation facilities has left children with more unsupervised spare time and therefore more vulnerable to drugs, he said. School principals are not held responsible by law for failing to prevent the spread of drugs, which has contributed to their negligence, he said.

"Drugs have already become a part of youth culture here," he said. "We previously said that the most dangerous age for acquiring a drug habit was between 18 and 25, but now we talk about the age between 11 and 14."