Diplomatic crisis at UNODC
Despite Yuri Fedotov being appointed as the new head of the UNODC only a few weeks ago, signs of diplomatic tensions arising out of his appointment are already beginning to surface, with western diplomats voicing their concerns about the future direction of the UNODC following Mr. Fedotovs appointment. Yuri Fedotov was made head of the UNODC after intense lobbying by the Russian government despite Russia’s poor record of dealing with drugs and his own chequered past.
The fear of the British and United States is that Mr. Fedotov will pursue a much tougher anti-heroin strategy and argue for the wholesale destruction of the Afghan poppy fields, as the Russian government has been arguing for. The British and United States more recent approach to Afghan poppy farmers has been to try and persuade them to grow other crops and provide them with incentives through which to do so. A push from the UNODC to attempt to destroy as many of the poppy fields as possible will most likely drive poor farmers into the hands of the Taliban insurgency rather than encouraging them to co-operate with the Afghan government and NATO and thus strengthen the insurgency
With Afghanistan supplying 90% of the world’s opium, the issue concerning how best to deal with the problem of impoverished Afghan poppy farmers has become a key battleground in international politics. Russia is suffering from a growing heroin problem, partly due to their failures in their internal drug-policy. However, the other major issue is the geographical location of Afghanistan in relation to Russia meaning that it is almost impossible for the Russian government to control the influx of Heroin. 30,000 Russians die each year from Heroin and Russia has been particularly critical of NATO's tactics in Afghanistan as a result.
It is feared by western diplomats that Russia's call for aerial spraying of the Afghan poppy fields will be adopted by Mr. Fedotov. Such a move would clearly make life far more difficult for NATO and Afghan forces on the ground in Afghanistan. The appointment of Mr. Fedotov is now looking like a spectacular own goal by the United Nations. Russia has a harmful and regressive drug policy and his selection at the UNODC seems to send the wrong message about how to deal with drugs, as well as heightening tensions between NATO and Russia.