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Will Closure of Central Drug Agency Signal Shift in Russia’s Drug Policy?

Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN), the body charged since 2003 with implementing the country’s drug policy, officially closed on June 1, 2016, following a decree issued by President Vladimir Putin.

The staff and organizational capacities of the agency have been transferred to the Ministry of Interior (MoI). Special police units – coordinated by the new Main Department for Drug Control and housed under the MoI – are now responsible for carrying out drug law enforcement and anti-narcotics trafficking activities.  

Throughout Russia, staff of the new drug police units are being partly comprised of ex-FSKN officers – in Moscow, for example, 80 per cent of former FSKN officials joined the new service. The Federal Security Service and Federal Customs Service are also partly responsible for the investigation of drug-related crimes, though their involvement is limited.  

Oleg Zykov, president of the national NGO No to Alcoholism and Drug Addiction said that the closure of the FSKN is indicative of the “behind the curtain games of the president’s close circle.”

The former head of the FSKN, Viktor Ivanov, had previously been a close acquaintance of President Putin, having served in the KGB like the president and later holding high posts in the Federal Security Service. In the 2000s, Ivanov was a key assistant to Putin. However, Ivanov’s high status ultimately failed to protect him and his agency from liquidation, as he was heavily criticized for the FSKN’s inefficiency.  

Russian experts interviewed by TalkingDrugs agree that the agency’s inefficiency was the main reason for its closure. Aleksey Kurmanaevskiy, an activist with the Eurasian Network of People who Use Drugs (ENPUD), believes that Putin is no longer willing to financially uphold such a huge and ineffective apparatus.

Mikhail Golichenko, senior policy analyst at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, echoes Kurmanaevskiy. “The FSKN was consuming around 35 billion roubles per year (approximately $540 million) and being very inefficient in terms of its direct responsibilities regarding the removal of illicit drugs from circulation. For example, the average seizure of heroin was less than 1 per cent [of what was estimated to be in circulation annually].”

The FSKN's closure has meant little in the way of a policy change, though. “Nothing has changed. Every day on the streets we see the same old practices [by law enforcement] of fabricating drug-related changes and the planting of drugs on people,” says Maksim Malyshev, a social work coordinator at the Andrey Rylkov Foundation.

Despite the continued crackdown, Golichenko believes that in the long term the closure of the FSKN may be a positive step for Russia’s drug policy. In April 2016, he wrote that the agency’s liquidation could lead to a decrease in drug policing measures, and thus in the number of people convicted for drug-related crimes. 

According to MoI statistics, from January to June 2016 around 103,000 drug-related crimes were registered, 17 per cent less than during the same period in 2015. This drop can be largely explained by the reorganization process of the FSKN that took place over these months.

Anecdotal reports suggest there may have been a fall in drug law enforcement activity since the FSKN’s closure. Konstantin Vilkov, leader of the Pskov- the city without drugs movement stated that liquidation of FSKN led to a worsening of the situation with drug control in the Pskov region, and Aleksandr Dementiev, head of the Sverdlovsk regional court, stated that closing down of Federal Drug Control Service has led to decrease of 20 per cent in the number of convicted drug dealers. However, there is little in the way of hard evidence showing a drop in drug law enforcement measures nationally.

The FSKN’s demise has also meant that the agency’s attempts to take control of Russia’s drug treatment centres is now over. Ivanov and his agency were actively cooperating with huge Russian non-governmental organisations in this work, such as the national network of commercial rehabilitation centres, Healthy Country. According to Kurmanaevskiy, FSKN and Healthy Country were trying to  attract huge amounts of state funding to develop the network, with the FSKN requesting 180 billion roubles from the state budget for these purposes.

Mikhail Golichenko notes that closing down of FSKN could help improve Russia’s reputation at the level of international cooperation on drug policy. “Since the very start of its activities, FSKN was very independent in the questions of international cooperation, and was actively promoting Russia’s weird drug policy to the international level; for instance, Russia’s position on implementation of opioid substitution therapy (OST) in the country," wrote Golichenko. In this regard, Golichenko sums up that over the years, the FSKN’s activties helped justify its popular nicknameGosKomDur’  (State Service of Folly).

At the domestic level, there is a slim hope that through transferring drug policing to the MoI, the arrests of people who use drugs may decrease, as Golichenko told VICE earlier this year. Ultimately, though, when it comes to the overarching repressive policy, it appears little will change, with Anya Sarang of Andrey Rylkov noting that the FSKN’s removal simply marks a shift of responsibilities to the MoI.  

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