Russia Looks to Increase Influence in Latin America Drug War

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Russia is to step up multilateral cooperation in counternarcotics operations in Latin America, in what may also be a play to increase its geopolitical influence in the region.

The director of Russia’s Federal Narcotics Service, Viktor Ivanov, announced plans to work with several Latin American countries in carrying out joint counternarcotics operations, training law enforcement agencies, improving user rehabilitation facilities, and helping develop common anti-drug policies.

Much of that investment will be in Nicaragua, where Russia is setting up an anti-drug training center, which will see Russian law enforcement experts train agents from seven countries in areas such as tactics and use of technology.

Ivanov also announced plans to increase security cooperation with Peru, and, in the coming year, begin training, information exchange, and joint monitoring of trafficking operations.

Ivanov added that Moscow police had identified trafficking routes into Russia in which cocaine is concealed in plantain shipments leaving Ecuador or in Colombian flowers shipped to Russia from via the Netherlands. He also highlighted West Africa as an increasingly popular transit point.

InSight Crime Analysis

Russia plays a central part in the global drug trade, but primarily as the world’s largest consumer of heroin, which is generally trafficked in from Asian countries such as Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, according to European police force Europol, it also has a growing consumer market for cocaine. Europol also identified the former Soviet countries around Russia as possibly the next emerging entry point for cocaine into Europe.

However, the reasons for Russia’s attempts to increase its influence in Latin America may also have a geopolitical angle. In an October 2012 tour of the region, Ivanov suggested his intention was to develop an alternative multilateral consensus around tackling drug trafficking that bypasses US dominance both in Latin America and in Asia. 

In the past, Ivanov has criticized the US government’s “heavy-handed methods of militarizing the region,” in tackling drug trafficking. However, his suggested drug control strategies do not stray far from conventional thinking and the policies emanating from Washington and seem more focused on rivaling US influence than changing tack in the drug war.  

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