Drugs money enables widespread corruption of individuals and institutions, Jihadist terrorism, separatist and secessionist violence, and illegal money laundering throughout Central Asia, the Greater Black Sea Basin and into Europe.
Although RF-US cooperation on fighting the drug problem throughout the Heart of Asia is of great political importance for Moscow – the likelihood of meaningful cooperation remains low because of the profoundly different approaches of Washington and Moscow to this question.
The opium cultivation and processing in Afghanistan are the starting point for, and the tip of the iceberg of a global problem that goes far beyond the destruction-through-addiction of human lives mainly from the heart of Russia to the European shores of the Atlantic. Inexhaustible drugs money provided by the unholy alliance of narco-terrorism and narco-criminality funds and facilitates all aspects of illegality and criminality that can, and do, undermine states in order to permit the safe production and transportation of illicit merchandise. Hence, drugs money enables widespread corruption of individuals and institutions, Jihadist terrorism, separatist and secessionist violence, and illegal money laundering throughout Central Asia, the Greater Black Sea Basin and into Europe. At the far end of the narco-cycle are the millions of addicts who not only burden their states’ welfare and medical services, but engage in massive criminality to fund their addictions, and deprive society of their skills as well as potential contribution to the national economy and demography.
Over the last decade, the magnitude of the Afghan narco-economy has kept growing fast and without significant interruption (except for the interim reduction in recent years due to blight attacks). The US kept insisting that “NATO has no role on the farm” ostensibly for fear of grassroots insurrection in response to the elimination of Afghanistan’s most lucrative crop. This argument is only a partial reason for the US reticence to act. More important is Washington’s trepidation of alienating the Karzai clan, their coterie and political machine, whose financial wellbeing is derived from the sprawling opium cultivation and processing. And the Karzai coterie, rather than Russia’s drugs nightmare, is a key to Obama’s quick withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Although the US should have been a driving force in the quest to eradicate the endemic drug trafficking throughout the Heart of Asia - the US has long absconded on the entire war on drugs. On June 2, the Global Commission on Drug Policy concluded that the US-led “global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.” Gil Kerlikowske, Obama’s drug czar, dismissed the commission’s report and insisted the US was already doing more than enough. Regarding the drugs problem in the Heart of Asia, Washington has little incentive to act considering that the vast majority of drugs used in the US are either home-grown or from Latin America.
For Russia, on the other hand, the unholy alliance of narco-terrorism and narco-criminality throughout the Herat of Asia represents viable threat to a myriad of vital interests. These range from the hemorrhaging of society, and particularly the Russian youth, through addiction and ensuing criminality, to the funding of Jihadist terrorism and subversion in the North Caucasus, to the long-term instability and violence along Russia’s southern borders and soft underbelly. Russia cannot afford to, and therefore must not, permit foreign partners to constrain or influence its ability to address and eliminate these vital threats.
Moreover, the struggle against narco-terrorism and narco-criminality throughout the Herat of Asia cannot be assessed in isolation from the overall strategic posture in the region. The West considers Central Asia “the Persian Gulf of the 21st Century” - the huge reserve of hydro-carbons that will replace the increasingly explosive and hostile Persian Gulf as Europe’s primary source of energy. The US, that has long exercised pressure on Western Europe by controlling the supplies of Persian Gulf hydro-carbons, is loath to see its influence vanishing as the EU switches energy suppliers. The growing success of the EU-RF “common Eurasian home” polity alarms the US because the EU no longer dreads Russian preeminence at the Heart of Asia. Although the US is not actively trying to undermine Russia’s strategic and economic posture – the US also has no interest to bolster Central Asia’s states and regimes that are inherently closer to Russia. It is easier for the US to pressure and influence weak governments. Thus, the unholy alliance of narco-terrorism and narco-criminality that keeps destabilizing and undermining the Central Asian states ultimately serves US interests – and Obama’s Washington will therefore continue looking the other way.
Hence, Moscow must lead the effort to not only stop drugs trafficking but ultimately bring down the unholy alliance of narco-terrorism and narco-criminality throughout the Herat of Asia. Vital existential interests of Russia are at stake and it is therefore incumbent on Moscow to assume responsibility for their elimination. Russia is a great power and should act as one - put Russia’s interests first, pursue them and secure Russia’s spheres of influence.
The US is pursuing and prioritizing its own interests in a pragmatic fashion. Hence, Washington might provide Russia and the states of Central Asia with funds and pertinent technology. The US will not shoulder the burden even if the source of the regional problem is in US-dominated Afghanistan. The drugs challenge at the Heart of Asia is at the bottom of Washington’s to-do list.
The Cold War is long over, and not every Russian step in pursuit of Russia’s own interests should be construed as either pro- or anti- American. Still, if Moscow wants Washington’s endorsement and cooperation – it must reach out to political Washington. Thus, even if the Obama Administration demurs – Congress will most likely understand and support (provided Moscow reached out to the Hill).