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Europe’s next drug hotspot

Before the war, the Ukrainian police actively fought drug-related crime. Now the authorities have other priorities.

Published: June 29, 2022, 10:07 am

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    The accession of Ukraine could lead to further negative consequences for Europe and the world. The United Nations has warned of an increase in drug production in the war-torn country. At the same time, the conflict could also become a problem for drug smugglers.

    According to the United Nations, the Ukraine war could lead to an increase in drug production. Conflict regions act like a “magnet” for the production of synthetic drugs, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Vienna warned in its annual report. “This effect may be greater when the conflict region is near large consumer markets”.

    According to the UNODC, the number of drug laboratories for the production of amphetamines closed by the authorities in Ukraine has risen sharply in recent years, from 17 in 2019 to 79 in 2020. This was the highest number of closed amphetamine laboratories in the world.

    As the war continues, the number of drug labs could increase further. “There is no police patrolling and stopping laboratories,” said UNODC expert Angela Me, referring to conflict zones. However, according to the report, the war in Ukraine could also lead to drug smuggling routes being disrupted or postponed.

    Russia cracks down on drugs

    The drug problem has plagued Ukraine for decades. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and national independence in the 1990s, the strictest of laws against the possession of even the smallest quantities, for which one ended up in prison. As a result, the number of HIV infections rose massively because those affected were cut off from medical and social support.

    After a few years, a much more liberal course was taken. It focused on safer use (a euphemism for drug use monitored by social workers) and better health care. This may have improved the overall health situation of consumers, but notably worsened the general drug problem in the country. In 2014, crackdowns on dealers and drug addicts began in the Lugansk and Donetsk oblasts, which are now controlled by the Russian Federation.

    Violence against women

    At the beginning of the Corona crisis, acts of violence against women in the drug milieu increased by around 30 percent. An observer described the situation at the time as follows: “Often the men send their wives to the streets so that they can fetch money for drugs. Sex work was suspended during lockdown. So there was no money.”

    Against the background of the upheavals of the war, it is now to be feared that the country will again develop into a European or even global hotspot for drug production and consumption. In addition to the ubiquitous corruption in the country, the EU would face another massive problem if Ukraine actually joined.

    Long-standing suspicions

    Even the Ukrainian president is regularly rumored to be addicted to cocaine.

    Speaking on the air of Radio Komsomolskaya Pravda, the Ukrainian journalist Anatoly Shariy, in particular, said the behaviour of the Ukrainian leader appear to be linked to the use of illegal substances. “They are such specialists already that they can distinguish some Puerto Rican or Costa Rican cocaine from Colombian cocaine,” Shariy said.

    However, Shariy is not the first who in Ukraine spoke about Zelensky’s drug addiction. This suspicion was expressed not long ago by the former President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko. When there was a struggle for the position of head of state, Poroshenko, referring to Zelensky, said that the president of the country and the supreme commander cannot be a person dependent on drugs.

    “I believe that this is an extremely big threat when there is a suspicion that the candidate or even the president of Ukraine, the supreme commander-in-chief may be a person who, it is possible, has a drug addiction. And in order to remove these issues, both candidates are interested in this, every Ukrainian is interested in this, those who make a conscious choice in exactly two weeks. The drug addiction of the candidate is a direct threat to national security. A threat to every Ukrainian,” Poroshenko wrote on Twitter.

    Poroshenko’s suspicion was fueled by the fact that Zelensky, then still a presidential candidate, refused to be tested by experts of the anti-doping organization (WADA), which he was offered to do to refute this accusation.

    It is clear that accusations of drug addiction by Zelensky that Poroshenko could put forward, were to compromise his political rival. But medical experts also sounded the alarm. The Independent Drug Guild’s drug doctor, Ruslan Isayev in an exclusive interview, analyzed the behaviour of Zelensky in public.

    “This condition can be a consequence of the use of psychostimulants or hallucinogens. The first thing that probably turns on the tongue is cocaine […] You can see that the person is active. Only this activity does not have adequate forms,” the narcologist explained.

    Afghanistan produces 86 percent of the world’s opium

    Meanwhile, according to the UN experts, the development of the market for opium-based drugs such as heroin depends on the situation in the crisis-ridden Afghanistan. Some 86 percent of the world’s opium was produced there last year.

    According to the UNODC report, the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan could lead to increased poppy cultivation, even though the ruling Taliban banned cultivation in April. “Changes in opium production in Afghanistan will impact opiate markets in all regions of the world,” the UNODC report said.

    According to the information, an estimated 284 million people worldwide used drugs last year. This means that every 18th person between the ages of 15 and 64 took drugs.

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