|Russia and the CIS News Digest
V. Ivanov: Close Borders to Drugs; Put Issue on U.S.-Russian Agenda
Feb. 23 (EIRNS)Russia's Federal Drug Control Service director Victor Ivanov called for closing Russia's borders to the Afghanistan drug plague, in testimony to the State Duma on Feb. 19, Vedomosti reported the next day. Ivanov also wants to raise the Afghan drug issue in the run-up to negotiations between Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and U.S. President Barack Obama at the April 2 G20 summit, Vedomosti reported, citing a source in the Russian State Duma.
Ivanov called for Russia to establish fully controlled borders with Kazakhstan and other Central Asian states, as an important countermeasure against the drug mafia, Regnum.ru reported today. "The administrative legal regime of borders, trade, and [goods] imported to Russia is extremely washed out [weakened] by international agreements and [this] does not allow organizing an effective control over drug trafficking from Afghanistan," in particular, Ivanov said.
The current borders are not a barrier to drug couriers. "Any Central Asian country's citizen can cross the borders a practically unlimited [number of] times. This is allowed by the visa-free regime and the legal possibility to use internal, not foreign passports," he said. The "aspiration to earn money by selling heroin, turns drug couriers into shuttle traders, who pass our state border more that 100 times in a year.... At the moment, the doctrine of transparent borders as the base of national development, has exhausted itself, and is not only inadequate, but also disastrous for the country," he said.
Ivanov told the Duma that Iran has the "most fortified border in the world" with Afghanistan, "with five-meter-deep trenches and walls with spikes every 500 meters to deter intruders. In addition, Tehran concentrates 60% of its ground forces and the troops of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard" on that border, he said.
Ivanov told the Duma that since 2001, the region's opium-poppy harvests have increased three-fold, and production of opiates has soared by 44 times. Reiterating what he has said a number of times, including at a press conference Feb. 13, Ivanov said that each year, 12 metric tons of pure heroin, or 3 billion individual doses, are being smuggled into Russia, and that Afghan drugs were killing 30,000 Russians each year.
The Duma has subsequently advised President Medvedev to set up a commission on the issue under the aegis of the Security Council, Vedomosti reported, and the government was told to negotiate with Moscow's CIS partners to improve efforts to tackle drug trafficking from Afghanistan. In addition, the Duma advised the Federal Migration Service to amend agreements on simplified procedures for granting Russian citizenship to CIS nationals.
Vedomosti cited an Interior Ministry official saying that the FDCS had failed to cope with the problem of drug trafficking from Afghanistan under its former director, Victor Cherkesov. The article also cited Afghan affairs expert Pyotr Goncharov saying that it would be impossible to change or expand the UN Security Council mandate because NATO countries would block any efforts in this field. According to Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitri Rogozin, NATO had not accepted a proposal from Russia for a joint operation code-named "Channel" against the Afghan drug barons.
Russian Railways: No Industry, No Freight
Feb. 27 (EIRNS)Russian Railways' freight handling was down over 33% in January, after a 17% drop in the fourth quarter of 2008, senior vice president Vadim Morozov told an extended Federal Rail Transportation Agency board meeting in Moscow yesterday, the Russian business news agency RBC reported. "For the first time since its conception, Russian Railways' operations are loss-making," he said. The only way to achieve "financial soundness" in 2009 will be to cut spending on transportation services by 173 billion rubles ($4.84 billion), by cutting pay increases, cutting the volume of complete overhaul, and reducing the Railways' consumption overall. The Railways' financial plans for this year, had been based on an assumption that shipments would decrease by 19% in January, rather than the actual 33%, he said. Profits will be 13.4 billion rubles ($375 million) in 2008, Morozov said. In 2007, net profits were 84.495 billion rubles ($2.36 billion) in 2007.
Russian industry is not producing, and this was hitting the railroad, Railways head Vladimir Yakunin had said when he was in London on Feb. 18, the Moscow Times reported. "We are going to finish this year, at best, with zero profit and in the worst scenario, we will get losses. It is a very severe blow to us." The slump "is harmful for the industry I'm representing because we are not producing goods; we offer services," Yakunin said. "There is no industrial production, so what can we carry? Only passengers."
In February, freight shipments are down 28%. "The drop started in November, and it was quite severe in December and in January, and the situation now is getting somewhat better, but I cannot say that it is sustainable," Yakunin said. He claimed that shipments of coal, oil, metal, and fertilizer shipments are now increasing somewhat.
"The Western financial market is completely closed to Russian companies," he said. "We rely on our banking system, which is being supported by the government." In November, Railways had said it planned to sell 100 billion rubles of infrastructure bonds and agreed to raise loans from a group of seven Russian banks. The government agreed last May to provide state guarantees for transport and infrastructure upgrades.