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Russia and Former Soviet Union


July 1993

Economic and social chaos in Russia and the former Soviet republics has led to a booming illicit drug trade, prompting one Moscow newspaper to brand the republics 'Narcostan' (John-Thor Dahlburg, "Tracking The Russian Connection: Former Soviet Republics Have Become What One Moscow Newspaper Calls 'Narcostan' -- The Land Of Drugs. Post-breakup Chaos Creates A Tempting 'Bridge' To Europe For Smugglers And A Boom In Illegal Labs," Los Angeles Times, 6/06/93, A1).

The extent of the illicit trade and its meteoric growth rate make it difficult to find proper analogies. A number of observers have pointed to Colombia in the 1970s and the United States during the heyday of alcohol prohibition as indicative of the scope of the trade. The former Soviet Union is both a transshipment point, a major consumer, and a producer of sophisticated pharmaceutical products such as amphetamines and designer drugs.

In Russia, personal drug use and possession were decriminalized in December 1991, while production, transport, and sale remain criminal offenses. Logically, a criminal drug trade will tend to grow when the drug buyers are protected from prosecution. Officials have not begun to get a handle on the situation, authorities concede, and the continuing economic strife makes unlikely any cohesive effort within the near future.

In Russia, illegal drug seizures increased from 16 tons in 1990 to 22 tons in 1992. In Uzbekistan, acreage planted in opium poppies increased tenfold from 1991 to 1992. There is evidence that international drug cartels have established links with traffickers in the former Soviet republics.