EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Catherine Ashton and Russian Federal Narcotics Service Director Viktor Ivanov capped a four-year negotiation effort Tuesday on the sidelines of a Russia-EU Summit in Yekaterinburg, Russia, inking a cooperation agreement on the control of drug precursors.
European customs officials hailed the deal as a breakthrough on tracking the movement of industrial chemicals sought by manufacturers of the illegal street drugs methamphetamine and ecstasy.
European Customs Commissioner Algirdas Semeta said he "warmly welcomed today's EU-Russia agreement to work hand-in-hand in preventing drug precursors from being used to make illegal drugs.
"For international threats, like narcotics trafficking, international cooperation is the best defense."
At the wrap-up of the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin also noted the anti-drug agreement. During his meeting with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, he said, the two sides discussed how to counter new security threats.
"One important outcome is that we have signed an agreement on drug precursors. It will undoubtedly strengthen cooperation between anti-drug agencies of the Russian Federation and the European Union," Putin said.
Chemical materials such as acetic anhydride, 1-phenyl-2-propanone and pseduoephedrine -- widely used in the manufacture of medicines, soaps and perfumes -- also are coveted by the producers of a new wave of synthetic drugs, Ivanov told ITAR-Tass.
"They are now flooding the globe, as almost every week a new type of drug is synthesized," he said. "The production of such drugs without precursors is impossible."
The Russian anti-drug czar said the new agreement cements a relationship that has been developing in recent years.
"We recently completed a three-year operation with Europe, particularly with Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus, which resulted in the arrest of 17 members of a criminal group and the seizure of about a ton of precursor.
"Thus 120 tons of psychotropic substances from Southeast Asia was prevented from entering the EU's territory. This would have produced dozens -- if not hundreds -- of millions of doses of narcotic drugs."
Russian joins 11 other countries in signing a precursor-tracking protocol with Brussels.
Criminal gangs, the EU says, are increasingly trying to circumvent controls on precursors by sourcing "pre-precursors" -- non-banned substances that can easily be transformed into the desired precursor chemicals.
Precursors can also be transported after being "masked" by changing their forms, for example, by converting them from liquid to solid, making it more difficult for customs agents and border control authorities to spot them.
The agreement "may be of a technical nature, but still is very important," Russia's permanent representative to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, told RIA Novosti.
"It is important to note that the European side of the agreement was signed by the High Representative of the European Commission on issues of security [Ashton]," Ivanov added.
It's a further sign the EU and Russia are stepping up their security ties through anti-drug efforts, he said, noting Brussels in 2009 declared that flows of heroin from Afghanistan and cocaine South America constituted a security threat.