21 November 2020
By Nikolai Kavkazsky, Moscow politician, social democrat, member of the Yabloko Party and a Left Social Action activist
On the 16th November, Vladimir Putin announced a further offensive in the war on drugs at a meeting of the Russian Security Council. Certain elements of the President’s rhetoric weren’t totally outdated – for example, Putin didn’t use the term “druggies”, but used the more modern terms of “addicts” and “drug users”. The President even expressed concern about the flagrant violations of constitutional rights in private rehabilitation centres.
Previously, Putin has stated that Crimea is an internal Ukrainian issue, that the pension age won’t be increased, that there is no LGBT discrimination in Russia, and that he is an absolutely clean democrat. He does not seem to believe that the war on drugs will lead to people continuing to die from overdoses of low-quality underground drugs. Hundreds of thousands of peoples’ lives will be broken in prisons, whilst the organisations that offer real help in reducing drug users’ exposure to danger will be listed as foreign agents or closed.
Putin announced the continuation of a harsh and uncompromising fight from the special services and law enforcement agencies against drug trafficking. He offered to increase results and improve performance levels – this intensification of police measures and the “improvement of performance” will lead to an increase of drug planting by police officers and an increase of drug users being presented as traffickers (after all, Putin said nothing on the problem of the fight against the falsification of drug crimes). In the conditions of the coronavirus pandemic, prisons will be filled with more and more new prisoners who have committed victimless “crimes”.
Putin also called for telling the truth about drugs! What truth did he call for, exactly? Perhaps the truth that objective information on the spread of drugs needs to be presented, instead of just saying “drugs are bad, alright?” Or perhaps not to lie about turning into a zombie after one hit of a marijuana joint? According to UN estimates, of 250 million drug users of all kinds, including hard drugs, only around 10% fall into the category of addicts or “problematic” users. But no! Accurate information about drug use and ways of reducing danger is claimed to be “drug propaganda” by the Putin administration, propaganda which can land you in prison.
The whole concept of the war on drugs that the Russian government is discussing is built on lies, violence, and potential prison sentences for millions of our fellow citizens. Poverty pushes hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren and students, single mothers and orphans, poets and service engineers into the lower rungs of drug trafficking – becoming pawners and pawnbrokers. It’s these people that will be given 10- and 15-year prison sentences, whilst the drug trafficking sharks get richer and share their income with corrupt officials and give security services a few random people so that they can meet their performance targets.
Russia should support social-democratic reforms which will bring citizens out of poverty and should offer drug users quality medical and social assistance. Only through this will we be able to reduce the damage caused by drug use and reduce their spread, and reduce the stigma attached to those who use illegal substances.
Translated by Cameron Evans