BERLIN, March 30 (UPI) -- Russia's top anti-drug official urged NATO to improve its strategy in the fight against the drug industry in Afghanistan.
Viktor Ivanov, the head of Russia's federal narcotics control service, said NATO needed to fight the Afghan heroin poppy cultivation industry -- by far the world's largest -- with more determination.
"The production of opium poppies in Afghanistan has grown 40 times since the start of the NATO campaign in 2001," he said last week in a speech before the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. "Drugs from Afghanistan killed 10,000 people in NATO countries in 2009 -- that's 50 times higher than NATO's military losses. We need to change the strategy and fight this dangerous security threat."
The Afghan drug sector is a giant business and the country's main economic industry -- it generates an estimated $65 billion per year. There are estimates that the Taliban finance their military activities against the West with around $300 million per year from the drug trade.
Poor farmers in the south of Afghanistan are paid by drug lords or the Taliban to cultivate opium poppies. The opium paste from the plants is transformed into heroin in laboratories all over the country, from where it is smuggled into Russia through Central Asia or Iran, Turkey and the Balkans into the European Union. From there, it reaches the United States and Canada.
Russia is one of the country's most affected. Moscow says 30,000 Russians died from Afghan heroin in 2009.
Ivanov said NATO forces should destroy poppy fields, a strategy Washington deems counterproductive, as it would take away the livelihoods of the poor Afghan farmers.
NATO troops have instead tried to convince farmers to abandon poppy cultivation in favor of other agricultural seeds -- a difficult task given that there exists no logistical infrastructure to market and sell the crops.
While criticizing NATO's anti-drug strategy, which many international experts deem a failure, Ivanov said Russia was willing to cooperate with the West on a greater scale to fight the Afghan drug production.
"We need cooperative responsibility and cooperative security projects," he said, adding that Russia has agreed to train several hundred Afghan drug police.
A bilateral U.S.-Russian commission headed by Ivanov and the United States' anti-drug czar Gil Kerlikowske has been sharing intelligence on the drug trade since last summer.
Ivanov hailed this project as exemplary, adding that Russia and NATO should join forces through a similar group "aimed at elaborating a common approach to fighting Afghan drug production."
August Hanning, a former head of the German spy service BND, said at the same event at the Berlin think tank urged regional governments to do their homework linked to the trade.
"The drug routes can only function because of the corruption in Afghanistan, Iran and the other transit countries," Hanning said.