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Russia: US Policies Stoking AIDS Pandemic

Moscow says Washington's refusal to eradicate Afghanistan's poppy fields stokes AIDS through the heroin trade.
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 10/17/2011, 12:09 AM

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov last week blamed US policies in the war on terror for aggravating the HIV/Aids problem in Russia and the West, Reuters reports.

Lavrov made Russia's persistent case for poppy crop eradication by US and NATO forces in Afghanistan at a conference on communicable diseases in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region.

"It is hard for us to understand why our American partners don't want the International Security Assistance Force to do this," Lavrov said.

"This issue is crucial to the fight against the drug threat and, consequently, the spread of HIV/Aids," he added.

Afghanistan is the world's biggest producer of poppies used to make opium, the key ingredient in the production of heroin. Russia is the largest per capita consumer of heroin in the world and faces an HIV/Aids epidemic that spreads via infected syringes.

Moscow says Washington made a serious blunder when it reversed its anti-drug strategy in 2009 by phasing out crop eradication efforts and shifting its focus to intercepting drugs and hunting production operations and drug lords.

Washington said at the time drug crop eradication was not damaging the Taliban insurgency, but was instead putting farmers out of work, sowing resentment against foreign intervention, which runs counter to its "hearts and minds" doctrine.

"The tragedy of the situation lies in the fact that in Europe, young people … are getting this disease because of the spread of drugs," Lavrov insisted, adding, "We must fight not only the use but also the spread of drugs".

Russia, which fought a decade-long war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, is supporting the Western military campaign in Afghanistan by providing transit routes for personnel and supplies.

Tensions with its old Cold War rival, the United States, have come to a head in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring and have caused rifts in the already cool relationship as upheavals in Central Asia and the Middle East create increased conflicting interests.

Moscow has repeatedly protected its strategic and economic partners, especially in Damascus and Tehran, from sanctions and calls for intervention by the West. Russia's former President Vladimir Putin has also stirred the pot in recent months by resorting to postures and rhetoric reminiscent of the Cold War as he prepares his bid to return to office.