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Drugs from Afghanistan flood Russia
( 2003-08-27 11:32) (Agencies)

Heroin from Afghanistan is sweeping through Russia with drug trafficking operations extending across the nation's eleven time zones, a senior government official said Tuesday.

"A heroin attack from the south has become the most acute problem for us," said Alexander Mikhailov, deputy head of Russia's newly-established drug control committee.

In a move which highlighted the Kremlin's concern about the rapid spread of drugs, President Vladimir Putin  set up the committee in March, naming Viktor Cherkesov, a longtime confidant and fellow KGB veteran, to head it.

Soon after the new committee started work last month, officials reported the nation's largest ever drug bust 920 pounds of heroin found in a truck stopped just outside Moscow. Mikhailov said Tuesday that the bust was worth over $22 million based on market prices.

During the first half of this year, Russian border guards alone have confiscated 3.2 tons of drugs, half of it heroin, Mikhailov said at a briefing with foreign reporters. The amount of drugs seized probably accounts for roughly 10 percent of the actual flow, he added.

Russia has between 3 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 that 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. The opium production in Afghanistan has skyrocketed since the fall of the hardline Taliban regime, which successfully suppressed production.

After the U.S. troops flushed out the Taliban in late 2001, impoverished Afghan farmers quickly turned back to lucrative poppies as their main source of income.

"The U.S. military action in Afghanistan has effectively stirred a hornet's nest," Mikhailov said.

 
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