Vladimir Putin

Russia pulls out of US drugs agreement

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 January, 2013, 9:46pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 January, 2013, 9:46pm

Russia said on Wednesday it was pulling out of a decade-old drug control agreement with the United States in the latest sign of a deterioration in ties since President Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin last year.

The Russian government website published a decree from Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev saying Moscow had informed Washington it was withdrawing because the deal “does not address today’s realities and has exhausted its potential”.

Moscow said it lacked the money to fight drugs when it struck the deal in September 2002 at a time of warming relations that followed the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

The statement implied that Russia – whose economy grew in the past 10 years on the back of high global energy prices – was now sufficiently rich to tackle the fight against drugs on its own.

A security source told the Interfax news agency that Moscow would keep open anti-narcotics programmes most heavily backed by the US Drug Enforcement Administration such as in Afghanistan.

But the decision’s timing suggested that Moscow intended for the move to be interpreted as reprisal for recent US actions against Russia aimed at punishing those responsible for rights abuses.

The announcement came just days after the United States said it was quitting a joint committee on civil society in protest at Putin’s record since his return for a third term as president.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Melia said at the time that Putin’s restrictions “called into serious question whether maintaining that mechanism (the civil society working group) was either useful or appropriate”.

Putin returned to the Kremlin in May after serving four years as premier in the face of the first concerted swell of anti-government protests since Soviet times.

The former KGB spy then quickly enacted legislation making it more difficult for his opposition to organise and limiting its ties with the West.

But the strongest action came after US President Barack Obama signed legislation freezing the assets and barring the entry of officials implicated in the death in a Moscow prison of the whistle-blowing corporate lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

Moscow has spent months fuming at the so-called Magnitsky Act and on Wednesday called it “odious”.

“We will continue adequately responding to unfriendly action,” the foreign ministry warned.

Parliamentary foreign affairs committee chief Alexei Pushkov said Moscow had initially warned Washington it was ready to end the anti-crime deal six months ago.

“So this should not come as a surprise,” he was quoted as saying by Interfax.

Obama came to the White House in 2009 promoting a “reset” in near-frozen relations with then-president Medvedev – seen as Putin’s more liberal partner.

But Medvedev’s departure and Putin’s return has prompted a rapid-fire sequence of tit-for-tat measures that included Russia pulling out of a 21-year-old nuclear non-proliferation agreement and the shutting down of the US Embassy’s USAID international development office in Moscow.

Putin then decided to ban all US adoptions of Russian children – a decision that drew outrage and partially prompted Washington to pull out of the civil society group.

Another sign of diplomatic unease emerged on Wednesday with a Moscow newspaper report saying that two US pro-democracy groups had been forced to move their local staff out of Russia over fears of prosecution under a tough new treason law.

Russia remains an important conduit for the heroin grown in Afghanistan heading for consumers in Europe. It has also suffered through its own drug epidemics in the years since the Soviet Union’s collapse.