The present study was carried out on behalf of the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNODCCP). It is a part of the larger project “Immediate Technical Assistance on the Control and Prevention of Drugs and Related Organised Crime in the Russian Federation”, which was launched by the UNODCCP early in 1999.

To re­con­struct the evol­u­tion of il­leg­al drug con­sump­tion and trade in Rus­sia, a re­search team was set up un­der the lead­er­ship of Dr. Let­iz­ia Paoli, which was com­posed of the fol­low­ing re­search­ers: Dr. Siegfried Lam­mich (MPI, Freiburg) and Dr. Eliko Cik­lauri (Freiburg and Vladikavkaz, North Os­se­tia); the staff of the Re­search In­sti­tute of the Pro­sec­utor Gen­er­al's Of­fice (Mo­scow); Prof. Dr. Yacov Gil­in­sky, Yakov Kos­tukovsky, and Maya Ru­sakova (In­sti­tute of So­ci­ology of the Rus­si­an Academy of Sci­ences, St. Peters­burg branch); Prof. Dr. Lud­m­ila Obid­ina (Uni­versity of Nizh­niy Novgorod); and Dr. Lud­m­ila Maiorova (Uni­versity of Krasno­y­arsk). Smal­ler con­tri­bu­tions were also provided by: Sergej Po­li­atikin from NAN (No to Al­co­hol­ism and Drugs, Mo­scow), Sergej Saukhat from Anti-AIDS South (Rostov-on-Don), Lud­m­ila Markory­an and Gen­nadiy Rakit­sky from the Bal­akovo and Khabarovsk sec­tions of NAN, and Yelena Za­vad­skaya from the Vla­divos­tok AIDS-Centre.

Ever since the study began in Oc­to­ber 1999, the MPI re­search team has ap­plied a vari­ety of re­search meth­ods, draw­ing in­form­a­tion from a plur­al­ity of primary and sec­ond­ary sources. 90 in-depth in­ter­views with key ob­serv­ers (law en­force­ment of­fi­cials, drug-treat­ment pro­viders, mem­bers of rel­ev­ant NGOs, and journ­al­ists) in dif­fer­ent parts of the Rus­si­an Fed­er­a­tion were car­ried out, as well as 30 in-depth in­ter­views with drug users in Mo­scow and St. Peters­burg. Ad­di­tion­ally, the re­search team ana­lysed 50 ju­di­cial sen­tences, as well as all the rel­ev­ant stat­ist­ics, the Rus­si­an and in­ter­na­tion­al sec­ond­ary lit­er­at­ure, and art­icles pub­lished on the top­ic in the Rus­si­an press.

Be­sides col­lect­ing na­tion­wide data, field re­search work was con­duc­ted in sev­er­al Rus­si­an cit­ies and re­gions where the mem­bers of the re­search teams were settled: Mo­scow, St. Peters­burg, Nizh­niy Novgorod, Rostov-on-Don, Bal­akovo, the Re­pub­lic of North Os­se­tia-Alanja, Krasno­y­arsk, Khabarov­osk, and Vla­divos­tok.

The fi­nal re­port, writ­ten by Let­iz­ia Paoli, was sub­mit­ted to the UN­OD­CCP in late 2000. In the be­gin­ning of 2001, it was pub­lished as a book in both Eng­lish and in Rus­si­an un­der the au­thor­ship of Let­iz­ia Paoli. The re­port con­sti­tutes the first large-scale em­pir­ic­al ana­lys­is of il­leg­al drug trade in post-So­viet Rus­sia, and it has largely con­firmed the hy­po­theses which led the UN­OD­CCP to launch the pro­ject of im­me­di­ate tech­nic­al as­sist­ance.

Main Find­ings:

Today, Rus­sia is a coun­try in which a vari­ety of il­leg­al drugs are pro­duced, trans­ited to fi­nal mar­kets in West­ern Europe, and con­sumed by a grow­ing num­ber of young people. The former USSR did not par­ti­cip­ate sig­ni­fic­antly in the in­ter­na­tion­al nar­cot­ics mar­kets as a con­sumer or sup­pli­er of il­li­cit sub­stances. This pat­tern of re­l­at­ive self-suf­fi­ciency, however, drastic­ally changed dur­ing the 1990s, at the same time as Rus­si­an drug de­mand con­sist­ently ex­pan­ded and di­ver­si­fied.

Even though large drug quant­it­ies merely trans­it through Rus­si­an ter­rit­ory to reach fi­nal con­sumers in West­ern Europe, the do­mest­ic mar­ket ab­sorbs today a grow­ing and over­whelm­ing por­tion of the il­leg­al drugs that are pro­duced, smuggled and sold in the coun­try. In fact, in the 1990s, a rap­id growth of il­leg­al drug use was re­gistered in Rus­sia. Since 1990, the num­ber of re­gistered drug users has in­creased by al­most 400 per­cent, and in 1999, 359,067 drug users were re­gistered in state drug-treat­ment centres. Ac­cord­ing to most ex­perts, however, the true num­ber of drug users is eight to ten times that fig­ure. The Rus­si­an Min­istry of the In­teri­or es­tim­ates that 2.5-3 mil­lion people reg­u­larly or oc­ca­sion­ally use il­leg­al drugs in the Rus­si­an Fed­er­a­tion, rep­res­ent­ing 2.1 per­cent of the whole pop­u­la­tion.

In ab­so­lute val­ues, this fig­ure is not stag­ger­ing. What is really im­press­ive, is the ex­plo­sion of in­ject­ing drug use and, spe­cific­ally, of heroin con­sump­tion. The lat­ter sub­stance be­came avail­able in Mo­scow and oth­er Rus­si­an cit­ies in the second half of the 1990s, and rap­idly sub­sti­tuted the less power­ful home-made opi­ates that were pre­vi­ously in­jec­ted by Rus­si­an users. Today, heroin at­tracts not only in­tra­ven­ous drug ad­dicts, but also teen­agers of all so­cial back­grounds. Six per­cent the of 15-16 year-olds in­ter­viewed in Mo­scow in 1999, ad­mit­ted to hav­ing used heroin at least once in their lives. In none of the 21 oth­er coun­tries in­volved in the sur­vey did the life­time pre­val­ence rate ex­ceed two per­cent. In the late 1990s, in­ject­ing use of heroin and oth­er drugs has turned to be a for­mid­able means of spread­ing HIV and AIDS.

Fol­low­ing the rap­id in­crease of il­leg­al drug use, the mar­ket it­self has ex­pan­ded in both its turnover and its geo­graph­ic ex­ten­sion, so much that il­leg­al drugs of some kind are avail­able even in the most re­mote parts of the coun­try. The drug sup­ply, too, has di­ver­si­fied tre­mend­ously. In or­der to get 'high' or to for­get their sor­rows, drug users all over Rus­sia are no longer ob­liged to rely on home-made products or de­riv­at­ives of loc­ally-grown plants. If they can af­ford it, they can eas­ily buy the same il­li­cit psy­cho­act­ive drugs that can be found in any West­ern European or North Amer­ic­an city, and which are im­por­ted from coun­tries as far away as Colom­bia, Afgh­anistan and Hol­land.

Par­tic­u­larly rap­id has been the spread of heroin, as the rap­id mul­ti­plic­a­tion of heroin seizures in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try shows. In 1996, the MVD seized heroin in 14 Rus­si­an re­gions; in 1997, this happened in 43 re­gions; in 1998, it were 67, and in 1999, heroin seizures were con­duc­ted in more than 70 dif­fer­ent re­gions of the Rus­si­an Fed­er­a­tion. Heroin largely comes from Afgh­anistan, the source of two thirds to three quar­ters of the glob­al sup­ply of il­li­cit opi­ates in re­cent years. It is largely smuggled in­to Rus­sia through the former So­viet Cent­ral Asi­an re­pub­lics and, above all, Tajikistan. In the lat­ter coun­try, weakened by civil war and eco­nom­ic re­ces­sion, many people have no choice but to deal il­leg­al drugs in or­der to sur­vive. Ac­cord­ing to re­li­able es­tim­ates, 35 per­cent of Tajikistan's gross do­mest­ic product comes from drug traf­fick­ing.

Through Tajikistan and the oth­er CIS states, heroin is also in­creas­ingly smuggled in­to East­ern and West­ern Europe along the old 'Silk Road'. The In­ter­na­tion­al Nar­cot­ics Con­trol Board es­tim­ates that up to 65 per­cent of opi­ates in­ten­ded for ex­port from Afgh­anistan, may pass through the por­ous Cent­ral Asi­an bor­ders to Europe. In most cases, these heroin car­goes are also brought across Rus­sia. Fur­ther­more, Rus­sia is in­creas­ingly used to trans­fer large amounts of can­nabis products, ori­gin­at­ing from South­ern CIS coun­tries and Afgh­anistan, in­to West­ern Europe.

The ex­pan­sion of the Rus­si­an drug con­sump­tion and trade dur­ing the 1990s, en­tailed the emer­gence of a na­tion-wide drug dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem, which brings il­li­cit drugs from pro­du­cers to con­sumers, and the con­sol­id­a­tion of the pro­fes­sion­al role of the drug deal­er. This role did not ex­ist in Rus­sia up to the early 1990s, as much as it did in West­ern Europe and the USA up to the mid-1970s. In So­viet times, drug users largely con­sumed psy­cho­act­ive sub­stances that were avail­able in their re­gion, and of­ten either har­ves­ted or pro­duced the drugs them­selves.

In most Rus­si­an cit­ies, a multi-level drug dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem has de­veloped and today, users in­creas­ingly buy their drugs from the deal­ers, in­stead of cul­tiv­at­ing or har­vest­ing them­selves. However, con­trary to sen­sa­tion­al­ist­ic ac­counts, drug users' de­mands seem to be neither sat­is­fied nor pro­moted by large, hier­arch­ic­ally-or­gan­ised firms that mono­pol­ise loc­al mar­kets. It is un­der­stand­able that pro­fes­sion­al and non-pro­fes­sion­al ob­serv­ers hy­po­thes­ise the in­volve­ment of a power­ful Mafia, to ex­plain the sud­den ex­pan­sion of il­leg­al drug con­sump­tion and trade in Rus­sia. Non­ethe­less, neither the field­work nor the ana­lys­is of ju­di­cial sen­tences provide any back­ing for such a hy­po­thes­is. The phe­nom­en­al growth of drug use can rather be at­trib­uted to the 'in­vis­ible hand' of the mar­ket. Today, the loc­al drug mar­kets of Rus­si­an cit­ies are largely sup­plied by a myri­ad of deal­ers who tend to op­er­ate alone or in small groups and of­ten con­sume il­leg­al drug them­selves. In many cases, the deal­ers do not even pos­sess pre­vi­ous crim­in­al ex­pert­ise and deal with il­leg­al drugs to make a liv­ing or to sup­ple­ment the mea­gre in­come they ob­tain from li­cit activ­it­ies.

The re­tail and whole­sale levels of the loc­al drug dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tems are of­ten oc­cu­pied by deal­ers be­long­ing to eth­nic minor­it­ies, most not­ably mem­bers of the Roma com­munity, Caucasi­ans, as well as Tajik and Afghan na­tion­als. Nev­er­the­less, al­though the mem­bers of some eth­nic com­munit­ies may be over-pro­por­tion­ally rep­res­en­ted in the drug dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem of many Rus­si­an cit­ies, they are far from oc­cupy­ing it all. Il­leg­al drugs are also pro­duced and sold today by many people who can­not be eas­ily clas­si­fied by a pre­cise scheme, be­cause they be­long to the main­stream Rus­si­an pop­u­la­tion.

The large crim­in­al or­gan­isa­tions that are presen­ted as the dread­ful 'Rus­si­an Mafia' by the do­mest­ic and for­eign press, are at the mo­ment ap­par­ently not in­ter­ested in the drug busi­ness, though some of their young­er af­fil­i­ates may be deal­ing drugs. The ex­traordin­ary en­rich­ment chances offered by the trans­ition to a mar­ket eco­nomy ex­plain, ac­cord­ing to some in­ter­viewees, their lack of in­terest in drug traf­fick­ing. As a law en­force­ment of­ficer put it, 'they have such huge op­por­tun­it­ies to make money in the so-called leg­al eco­nomy, that it makes no sense for them to deal drugs'.

Des­pite the re­cent ex­pan­sion and the in­creas­ing soph­ist­ic­a­tion and pro­fes­sion­al­ism of drug sup­pli­ers, the threat of the il­leg­al drug trade should hence not be over­em­phas­ised. Rather, this con­tra legem activ­ity should be mat­ter-of-factly as­sessed with­in the lar­ger con­text of Rus­sia's eco­nom­ic and or­gan­ised crime. Il­leg­al drug trade, in fact, still rep­res­ents a re­l­at­ively small part of the boom­ing Rus­si­an il­leg­al and semi-leg­al eco­nomy, and it has not yet be­come the primary source of rev­en­ue for the galaxy of Rus­si­an or­gan­ized crime. Al­though drug traf­fick­ing cer­tainly has huge po­ten­tial for growth, the largest for­tunes in Rus­sia are still col­lec­ted in the wide 'grey area', where the dis­tinc­tions between the leg­al and il­leg­al eco­nomy are blurred.


Fund­ing:

United Na­tions Of­fice for Drug Con­trol and Crime Pre­ven­tion (UN­OD­CCP).