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Updated: March 12, 2010 19:17 IST

Russia flays US, NATO over Afghan drugs

AP
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In this file photo, Russian Ambassador to NATO Mr. Dimitri Rogozin, speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels. AP.
In this file photo, Russian Ambassador to NATO Mr. Dimitri Rogozin, speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels. AP.

Russia’s envoy to NATO has sharply criticized the alliance’s shift away from fighting drug trafficking in Afghanistan, saying the resulting surge in heroin smuggling is endangering Russia’s national security.

In an interview late Thursday, Dmitry Rogozin also highlighted the lack of cohesion within NATO, saying Moscow is worried about declining public support in Europe for the war.

“(Russia) is losing 30,000 lives a year to the Afghan drug trade, and a million people are addicts,” Mr. Rogozin said. “This is an undeclared war against our country.”

“We are obviously very dissatisfied with the lack of attention from NATO and the United States to our complaints about this problem.”

For years, the allies tried to eradicate poppy crops, but that resulted in a boost to the insurgency as impoverished poppy farmers joined the Taliban. Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s new policy of trying to win the support of the population means that these farmers are now left alone, enabling them to tend crops that produce 90 percent of the world’s heroin.

Russia says that drug production in Afghanistan has increased tenfold since the U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban regime in 2001. Smugglers freely transport Afghan heroin and opium north into Central Asia and Russia, and also on to Western Europe.

Mr. Rogozin pointed to Washington’s inconsistency in its attitude to international drug trafficking saying that in contrast to Afghanistan, it was waging a drug war in Colombia because that was the primary source of cocaine that goes to America.

“But in the case of the heroin which goes to Russia, they are doing practically nothing,” he said. “This is not how you treat your friends and partners.”

NATO spokesman James Appathurai, said the alliance understands Russian concerns, and that the problem affects Europe as well. The most important part of solving the drug trade was helping to defeat the insurgency, and NATO has 120,000 troops trying to do just that, he said.

Mr. Appathurai noted that the U.N. cites the Marjah region, where NATO has just completed a large-scale offensive, as one of the world’s foremost opium-producing areas. “By helping re-establish government control there, we are making a substantial contribution to the counter-narcotics effort,” he said.

“We would welcome increased support from Russia for our overall effort and (NATO) has made very specific requests to Moscow which they are considering,” Mr. Appathurai said.

Russia contributes logistical support for NATO— and U.S.—led operations by providing a vital land and air transit corridor for the shipment of supplies to the international force. It also services Soviet helicopters and organizes training for the Afghan anti-drug police. But Moscow has always ruled out sending ground troops.

During the Cold War, the Soviets provided military support for the secular Afghan government, and sent over 100,000 troops to defend it against religious fundamentalists being financed by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Britain, and other Western nations. About 15,000 Soviet soldiers perished in the 10-year war in the 1980s.

“Today we are helping them fight the same fanatics whom they supported against us 20 years ago,” Mr. Rogozin noted.

He expressed concern over weakening support for the nine-year war from America’s European allies, “who ended up in Afghanistan without really knowing what they were doing there.”

“The result is falling public commitment to the war,” he said.

Last month, the Dutch government collapsed because it tried to comply with a NATO request to keep its 2,000-strong contingent in Afghanistan. The Dutch crisis, and growing public opposition in other European countries to further involvement in Afghanistan, has sparked fears that other NATO nations might also pull out their troops.

“NATO is still dominated by the United States, and European allies still fall in line just to keep the alliance going, (by) participating in U.S.-initiated military adventures, even though their national interests in doing so are far from clear,” said Ian Buruma, a professor of democracy at Bard College in New York.

“It is hard to see how this can continue for much longer.”

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