Moscow’s Terror Fighter
I am not the biggest fan of Newsweek. This is the result of a two year stint where news was hard to come by, and my only source was Newsweek (hereafter referred to as News-Weak). However, every so often they’ll publish an interview that, if not worthwhile, is at least with someone you don’t hear from very often. Because of this, I am going to republish their most recent interview (complete with commentary) with Viktor Ivanov, the current head of the Federal Anti-Narcotics Service (FSKN), and a Silovik.
Viktor Ivanov is one of Russia’s leading Siloviki, a group of ex-KGB officers close to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Since 2008 he’s been a senior member of Russia’s National Antiterror Committee. He also heads Russia’s Federal Service for the Control of Narcotics, where he’s focused on breaking the links between the heroin trade and Islamic insurgencies in Russia and Central Asia. Ivanov spoke to NEWSWEEK’s Anna Nemtsova in Moscow. Excerpts:
Will there be a crackdown in the North Caucasus in the wake of last week’s terror attacks in Moscow and Dagestan?
Naturally. But it is also necessary to make changes in the system. The fact that such attacks happen in Russia proves that the conditions that fuel [them] haven’t been eradicated. First, the state has to strengthen its borders. Increased controls would allow us to filter all the dangerous persons and goods.
What exactly do you suggest?
A tighter border regime does not mean we should isolate ourselves with a Great Wall of China. I am talking about stricter regulations and more vigilance. But of course the biggest part of it is curbing drug traffic. Russia has the highest drug traffic in the world. That’s a serious danger for our security.
Are you saying that terrorism and drug traffic are related?
I have no doubts that drug traffic feeds terrorism in Russia. Huge amounts of illegal money flow to radical groups from the drug trade. At a recent meeting of the Security Council in Mineralniye Vody [in the North Caucasus], we saw reports that the drug traffic coming to Dagestan has increased by 20 times over the last year. That is what fuels terrorism, because terrorists buy their communication equipment and weapons with drug money.
Did you talk about Al Qaeda involvement?
Yes, we did.
You just got back from a NATO meeting in Brussels to discuss security cooperation. Was the response positive?
No. But that did not make me faint from shock. NATO is a mechanism where everybody has a voice, like in a political party. It makes decisions the way our Communist Party used to—slowly.
You mean NATO is behind the times?
Exactly. Our president has traveled to Europe several times to talk about the urgent necessity of changing the architecture of security in the region. Right now, NATO is ineffective. Terrorist and criminal groups are multiplying in Central Asia and the Balkans. Everybody admits that. Why does that not make NATO take more-effective measures to protect Europe? I am trying to understand their logic.
What is the link between drugs and terror?
The interests of terror groups spread across international borders. To protect their business interests, they explode bombs, threaten, and terrorize us. This instability helps them make money. [Points to a map of the Fergana Valley in Central Asia, a key drug route.] It takes off from here and goes to Moscow and blows up on the metro. A kilo of heroin is worth $150,000 on the street in Russia. And a Kalashnikov costs $1,000 on the Afghan market and, in some other neighboring countries, just $300 on the black market. A Stinger missile costs $20,000, and you know what it is for? To shoot down airplanes.
How much did the bombs that killed 38 people in Moscow last week cost?
Last Monday’s terror act cost the equivalent of one kilo of heroin [$150,000]. A terrorist attack is the most powerfully destructive act that these people can commit. It is horror, it is blood, it multiplies by mass media—it traumatizes even those who were not injured. It always feels like a giant tragedy. But it’s not the only destructive act. Tens of thousands of Russians die quietly every year from drugs. It is a cancer that our society is sick with.
The thing that bothers me the most about all of this is that I just doubt his sincerity. Plus, I am just not sure that I think he is being entirely honest. Anyway, commentary on the selected quotes:
(1) …the state has to strengthen its borders.
I hate this “the state” business. You are the state, Bro! Or at least VVP is.
(2) …the biggest part of it is curbing drug traffic. Russia has the highest drug traffic in the world.
Do you actually have the numbers to substantiate that claim? I doubt it.
(3) I have no doubts that drug traffic feeds terrorism in Russia.
Well, that’s probably true. I think I read something like that about ten years ago, when my interest in Chechnya was first sparked.
(4) …we saw reports that the drug traffic coming to Dagestan has increased by 20 times over the last year.
I just do not believe that. I want charts, graphs, etc.
(5) NATO is a mechanism where everybody has a voice, like in a political party. It makes decisions the way our Communist Party used to—slowly.
If only we could all have your system of rubber-stamping everything. Life would be so much easier.
(6) Right now, NATO is ineffective. Terrorist and criminal groups are multiplying in Central Asia and the Balkans. Everybody admits that. Why does that not make NATO take more-effective measures to protect Europe? I am trying to understand their logic.
And yet you complain when we try to get involved. Lest we forget, that is all your sphere of influence.
(7) Last Monday’s terror act cost the equivalent of one kilo of heroin [$150,000].
Again, I want proof. I want charts, graphs, etc.
I think that what Viktor is trying to prove here is that this is NATO’s fault because the Russian border with Afghanistan is not secure. And I think that if we saw the whole interview, we’d probably see a better argument for it. Unfortunately, because it is “News-Weak”, we won’t see it.