Hit Counter Substance use policy in the former USSR
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By Konstantin Akimov

E-mail to author: kvakimov@icloud.com


Oink Oink... Tik Tak



1.      “Ambivalent” drinking culture

2.      The results of Gorbachev’s Anti-Alcohol Campaign

3.      Geography and the history of drugs in the USSR

4.      How the Russians rediscovered drugs (the second period, 1987-1990)

5.      Liberal drug policy (the third period, 1990-1998)

6.      Tough approach (the fourth period, 1998-2000)




“Politics is the art of looking for trouble,

finding it whether it exists or not,

diagnosing it incorrectly,

and applying the wrong remedy.”




The purpose of this thesis is to describe and explain the process of the drug policy formation in the former Soviet Union.

I have divided the evolution of drug policy in Russia into four parts. The first is the Soviet period (before about 1987), when notions of drug use and certainly of drug addiction were virtually non-existent for the communist policymakers; or even if they were present, due to an atmosphere of secrecy surrounding the topic, they had very low status. Second is the period after the Afghanistan war (1987-1990) when drugs were introduced to society and the stable drug supply network emerged. Third is the transitional period (1990-1998), when drug use becomes a popular phenomenon and which is characterized by the relatively liberal way of policymaking. And fourth is the period of a more suppressive approach (1998 – 2000), similar to those of the United States. However, it should be noted that these divisions are drawn quite roughly.

The central question of this thesis is why two contradictory changes in substance use policy (the relatively liberal view in 1990 and the conservative one from 1996 to 1998) occurred.

For centuries, the ultimate relaxation and escape mechanism in Russia was vodka. In the Soviet era, the already present hard-drinking habit was magnified by the stupidity of life and of having nothing useful to do. Gorbachev started to tackle this drabness. The idea behind Gorbachev ’s ill-fated uskorenie (speed-up) campaign was that the proactive state would create the new societal institutions and shape behavioral patterns, as well as providing conditions of adequate safety at the times of economic and social changes and shocks (gradualist scenario). Gorbachev believed that the anti-alcohol campaign would awaken and mobilize the people; breaking down their pessimism and apathy. Yet his intention to create “socialism with a human face” was based on an inhuman legacy of simple, command communist solutions. Russians simply resisted sobriety by decree and the society was sick and tired of any ideology. Gorbachev’ s Glasnost’ has led to a loosening of social and legal taboos. A storm of protests due to the violation of human rights was probably the main reason why the anti-alcohol policy was abandoned. Nobody wanted to build anything anymore. The spectacular failures of both uskorenie and of the anti-alcohol campaigns had discredited any socialist alternative to liberalism.

I will support the theory of Dr. P.D.A. Cohen of the Center for Drug Research, University of Amsterdam, that the development of a drug policy in post-communist countries is a function of other, more important policies. [1] After the demise of the Soviet Union, Russia was faced with the formidable task of (re) creating its state structures virtually from scratch. The Laissez-faire  (liberal) scenario for establishing a free market society is viewed as the only practical option. Classical, evolutionary theory of institutional change suggests that correctives to deficiencies will emerge spontaneously in response to market forces. The government plays no significant role either in establishing new economic institutions or in creating societal behaviors. Institutional changes occur primarily as the result of the removal of old mechanisms. The new drug policy post 1990 was created more or less in line with such liberal principles.

On the 25th October 1990 the USSR Committee for Constitutional Supervision ruled that the right to health care of the Brezhnev Constitution is not only a social right, but also a freedom. It restricts the state in regulating this sphere and stated that this right may be restricted by the state in order, if it is necessary, to protect the health of other persons; but not to protect only the health of the holder of the right. Neither the Constitution, nor international acts on human rights provide for someone’s obligation to take care of their own health. Therefore, the legal prohibition to use narcotic drugs does not comply with the right to liberty. Nobody may be taken to account for refusing to undergo enforced treatment for alcoholism or drug abuse. The use of drugs is free and may not be considered as a crime. Shortly after this very important ruling the use of drugs was decriminalized and the narcoprisons were abolished. “When the provisions on drug use disappeared from the Criminal Code, the idea was much broader legalization, even to allow legal and fully taxable distribution systems for all drugs to be established.” [2] However, this was not realized. The production and circulation of narcotics remained prohibited.

With the new 1996 Criminal Code being adopted, liability for drug-related crimes became stricter; and finally the law of 8 January 1998 “On narcotics and psychotropic substances” settled a more suppressive policy.

Therefore, to make it clear, during the Soviet time the drug question was simply ignored, the period following Gorbachev’ s perestroika drug policy was relatively liberal, and later it was switched back to the more extreme model.

Why did this happen? That is the focus of this paper.

As this is a politically loaded question it seems best to inform the reader of my own stance on the matter in hand.

What should be done? My opinion is that by accepting the first principle of harm reduction as a state policy it would really change the situation for the better:

“Accepts, for better and for worse, that licit and illicit drug use is part of our world and chooses to work to minimize its harmful effects rather than simply ignore or condemn them” [3]

The ultimate aim of substance policy must not be punishment, but harm reduction. Drug users are not criminals and sending them to jail is barbarian and unacceptable.

1.   “Ambivalent” drinking culture

“I raised the matter with Brezhnev in these words: ‘Socialism and the boozing of vodka by the people don’t go together. Why is the politburo silent on this?’ He heard me out patiently and then said: ‘The Russians have always drunk vodka. They can’t get by without it.’”

Interview with former Soviet foreign minister ANDREI GROMYKO, The Observer, April 1989


One of the most impressing elements in Russian drinking behavior is the multiplicity of occasions that drinking is associated. In the sphere of popular, unofficial values, alcohol appears as an essential adjunct to pleasant events and as an ultimate escape mechanism from stressful or painful situations.

“People drink when they meet, when they take leave of each other; to quiet their hunger when they are hungry, to stimulate their appetite when they are satisfied. They drink to get warm, when it is cold, to cool off when it is hot. They drink when they are drowsy, to wake up, and when they are wakeful, to bring on sleep.” [4]

There are plenty of jokes about Russians and their consumption of alcohol, especially vodka. However, Russia’s problems regarding alcohol is no joking matter. Vodka and other strong drinks (40% alcohol content or higher) account for over 60% of consumption [5] . When consumed in large volume, it is far more damaging for to the health than the more gradual intake of drinks with a lower alcohol content, such as wine drinking in France. The way that Russians drink is a factor of historical significance.

The official Soviet explanation of the extraordinary alcohol problems in the USSR was the simple one: alcoholic behavior is learned behavior; it is a legacy from the past. Excessive alcohol use (“Russians love to binge”) is an indispensable element in traditional celebrations inculcated early in life.

“It would take an encyclopedia to explain all the vodka lore from the gentle tap under the throat which signifies drinking to the scores of ditties Russians have invented to convey the message, “let’s go drink”. Vodka eases the tension of life. It helps people to get to know each other, for many a Russian will say that he cannot trust another man until they have drunk seriously together. Vodka-drinking is invested with the symbolism of machismo. Roy Medvedev, the dissident historian, told me that as a young teacher out in the Urals, going around a village to encourage parents to keep their children in school, he was told by three elders in one home that they would not even talk with him unless he downed a tumblerful of vodka. When he performed that feat, they regarded him as a man they could trust.” [6]

Walter D. Connor, the author of the book Deviance in Soviet Society. Crime, Delinquency and Alcoholism, describes the Western point of view:

“From the perspective of the non-Soviet observer, the widespread nature of drunkenness and alcoholism seems inextricably connected to the vitality of the historically conditioned and culturally transmitted patterns of drinking, which assures it a place in the behavioral repertoire of many Russian men. The apparently high incidence of drunkenness among working-class males with little education and medium to low skills suggests (though here better statistics would be desirable as a foundation for any firm conclusion) that certain forms of alcohol pathology may be connected with the deprivations and boredom of Soviet lower-class life.” [7]

Crowded housing, low incomes, shortages of goods and the general darkness of the Soviet life have seemed to Western observers as adequate reasons for the escapist use of alcohol.

Soviet politics, who denied direct connection between dissatisfaction with living standards and drunkenness, did not support this view. However, many Soviet authors did cite conditions of living to explain alcoholism in capitalist countries and in pre- revolutionary Russia.

Why did not the Soviet State make real attempts to re-shape the citizens to the communist matrix? The leading scientific opinion in the West is based on the theory of Vladimir Treml, Russian economist currently working at Duke University, who made a statistical research on alcohol use in Soviet and post- Soviet Russia:

“For more than sixty years excise taxes on alcoholic beverages and state profits derived from the alcohol and wine industry and imports accounted for between 12 and 14 percent of all state revenues: thus Soviet policies with respect to alcohol and its impact on the society were to a large degree driven by short-term considerations of fiscal expediency, i.e., the need to provide the state treasury with steady alcohol related revenues.” [8]

According to Vladimir Treml, pure economic considerations were the cornerstone of communist alcohol policy. One of the biggest arguments of Treml is that the state enjoyed the monopoly on the alcohol production and sales. And that is profit to the state pocket, since production costs are less then 15% of cost.

I would like to disagree with Mr. Treml. My hypothesis is that the vodka business, while very lucrative, was not a target of alcohol policy, but a side- effect from the incapability to do something in that field. In fact, many of the Kremlin leaders before Gorbachev recognized alcohol use as the worst social problem.

1)     The social cost of alcoholism is much higher than the revenues from the alcohol sales.

At the center of the official concern was the relationship between drunkenness and social problems, including a high divorce rate (about 40%) [9] , auto accidents and crime, especially violent crime. Soviet statements contributed “more than 80% of hooligan acts” [10] and “70% of all crimes” [11] to drunkenness.

Productivity and workmanship suffered. Drinking while working became a common practice. In 1982 alcohol problems costs the Soviet economy more than 23 billion rubles per year (about 31 billion dollars). [12] According to Michael Binyon in Life in Russia, in 1983 37% of fabric workers were alcoholics. [13]

We have little indication that the Soviet people cared about the socialist property they supposed to; the theft from the factories was a quite common practice – “everything belongs to people, so everything belongs to me”. A hundred meters from the factory doors someone interested could always find a  worker who was selling stolen goods, and the payment was usually accompanied (or completely done) with vodka. For many people the illegal trade was the only way to obtain scarce goods, so they silently supported this kind of activity.

2)     The anti-drinking campaigns had been repeatedly introduced long before Gorbachev in the Soviet Union. The emphasis was always on punishment and prohibition. Yet, nothing worked.

The Bolsheviks inherited prohibition imposed in 1914 to make the war effort more efficient. This led to home-brew on a huge scale, so in 1922 a sweeping campaign was launched against illicit distilleries. It failed and was gradually lifted, but anti-alcohol campaigns went on. Stalin introduced one in the late 1920s, Khrushchev launched his in 1958, and Brezhnev made some half-hearted attempts in 1972 and 1979. Prices have been doubled and tripled by the regime. A survey in 1982 found it took the average Muscovite about seven hours work to earn enough to buy a bottle of vodka; in Washington it took just one hour. [14] Yet, consumption continued to rise.

The way the cheapest kind of vodka was sold in the USSR tended to encourage people to overindulge. It was sold in 0,5 liter bottles without reusable tops. According to the marketing experts, once opened, there is a psychological compulsion to drink the remainder, otherwise the product would be “wasted”. One can call this a nice example that the state didn’t care about the way citizens’ drink; the goal was to sell as much as possible. But the reality is much simpler: this top was just another example from the parade of sometimes strange and bizarre inventions of Brezhnev’ “rationalization” campaign (that included implementing cost effective components in a production line, that generally resulted in using the cheapest solutions and materials possible).

While Soviet sources do not provide a clear statistical portrait of the average public drunkard, it is very likely that the working class was the source of the official problems. The Party members, women and youth were less likely to be registered. The majority of the clientele of “sobering-up stations” (meditsinskie vytrezviteli) were manual workers, with an educational level that seldom rose above incomplete secondary schooling.

“An executive with a drinking problem is more easily able to hide it and more likely to segregate the context in which he drinks and works. The personal observations of the author and some other visitors to Soviet cities, however, would tend to confirm the image of the “working-class drunkard”. It is not particularly difficult, at any time of day, to find intoxicated persons lying on the sidewalks of major streets. External appearances, dress, and the like, as observed in this rough “sampling”, indicate that the majority of the intoxicated are workers.” [15]

Then it comes to the responsibility, the moral characteristics of the particular person (is he a moderate drinker or alcoholic?) were decisive. Walter D. Connor summarizes the point:

“Alcohol reveals qualities the offender, when sober, has managed to control or to hide. Conversely, this means that a “morally stable” person, while his drunkenness is no less reprehensible, will not behave as a criminal even if he is not fully conscious of his acts.” [16]

Thus, while “temporarily escape” had been tolerated, alcoholism has been seen as a form of a deviant behavior. The drunkard or alcoholic showed continuing disrespect for the rules of socialist life. This was unacceptable for the strong state.

It was believed that deviant behavior could be effectively managed by restrictive and penal measures. A decree of the RSFSR Supreme Soviet on April 8, 1967 [17] provided for changes in the applicable legislation that simplified significantly the procedural requirements for committing a person to compulsory treatment and specified a new variety of institutions for the containment of alcohol offenders. Previously, an offending drunkard had to be on trial for a crime before the People’s Court in order for the question of compulsory treatment to be raised (by way of petitions from “public organizations, workers’ collectives or state agencies”). Now, those who violated “labor discipline, public order and the rules of socialist communal life” (varieties of deviance frequently not containing the elements of crime) became similarly liable. The decree provided for no appeal from the court’s decision to compel treatment, and specified a one- to two-year period in treatment-labor institutions, with a mandatory stay of one-half the sentence period before release of cured inmates can be contemplated. Escape from the institutions, a criminal offense, was punishable by imprisonment.

So it was not the Ministry of Health, but the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), with its long tradition of GULAG work camps, that came to the frontline with the fight against alcohol abuse. In fact, the difference between corrective-labor colonies for criminals and treatment-labor institutions for alcoholic deviants (lechebno-trudovye profilaktorii – LTPs) was quite small; both fell under the jurisdiction of MVD and operated on the same fundamentals: compulsory labor, heavy regime and ideological work.

Alcohol users repeatedly arrested by police were placed on the “Registry” of the Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD). It was a closely controlled record of citizens with questionable political views, criminal records or psychological problems. But most Russians drink at home and therefore avoided confrontation with police. If someone was not arrested for drunkenness, he did not appear on the Registry, and therefore was not counted as an “alcoholic”.

The main responsibility of medical institutions was treatment of the worst clinical cases of alcoholism, cirrhosis of liver and alcohol psychoses, that resulted from the “binge culture”.

The appropriate educational and popular propaganda program (including public lectures, film showings, “Comrade Courts” on alcoholics designed for mobilizing general public opinion against “drunkenness and debauchery”), that was implemented under the supervision of the Communist Party by the system of district polyclinics (raionnye polikliniki), the alcoholism departments of the psychoneurological dispensaries (psikho-nevrologicheskie dispansery) and the trade unions, were never accepted seriously by the population. Even more, the publicly condemned drunkards enjoyed the great deal of folk sympathy, because, with the exception of violent crimes committed under the influence, alcohol-connected deviance is only relatively antisocial. The alcoholic, of course, frequently harms himself – but his behavior may or may not have consequences for other persons and for property. Perhaps, the drunkard cannot contribute to societal goals such as building communism, and in this sense harms society, but he has not necessarily set himself against society. He is just “tired”. The simple fact that the state enjoys a monopoly on the production and distribution of alcohol, which can be obtained easily and everywhere, can hardly add weight to the arguments against drinking. Because if it is so bad, then why doesn’t the state prohibit it?

In the Soviet case, the situation is an example of the so-called “ambivalent” drinking culture, one in which “the cultural attitude toward beverage alcohol usage is one of conflict between co-existing value structures”. [18] `On the one hand, excessive drinking was the cultural pattern. On the other, Russian value structures, expounded by the state, were strongly authoritarian. In the Soviet era the official values of the new Soviet man - sober, methodical, industrious, committed to hard work and active participation in public life – clashed with reality. Thus the strong state, Russian or Soviet, typically faced the strong drinker.

The ongoing confrontation between the strong state and an extreme drinking culture results in a pendulum which swings from repression to a case of relative tolerance. The Brezhnev variety of the “ambivalent drinking culture” represents a case of relative tolerance. One may also say that it was a compromise between the strong state and society: the strong state a priori considered extreme use as evil, but tolerated it as tradition while it denied the existence of alcohol problems. 

Below is my formula of the Soviet alcohol policy of the Brezhnev years:

The strong state accepted a traditional drinking culture. Moderate drinking is good; alcoholism is bad. An alcoholic shows continuing disrespect for socialist life, and this is unacceptable for the strong state. Those who do not respect the rules of society will be punished.

I believe that the expression of this doctrine was true for the whole economy and society. Brezhnev Zastoj means “do nothing”. The system can be compared with a portable cassette recorder with old batteries. The tape is playing, parts moving, but slowly and slowly. The song sounds terrible, but it is better than no music. Something was left in the batteries, enough for one lifetime. For one lifetime, but not for two. Gorbachev was too late. He tried to boil the old batteries in a hot water hoping to get some more power. Hopeless, they are not rechargeable.

2.   The results of Gorbachev’s Anti-Alcohol Campaign

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”


“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”



After Brezhnev died on November 10, 1982, at the age of seventy-five, the tendency toward the hardening of the positions of the strong state, that Andropov began and Gorbachev continued, was reinforced. The strong state reconfirmed itself more strongly.

The General Secretaryship of the Party went to Iurii Vladimirovich Andropov (68), ex-head of the KGB. A sharp critic of stagnation and corruption under the Brezhnev regime, in 1983 Andropov announced the new campaign for strengthening labor discipline. The new sanctions gave the administration more power over workers who came to work drunk; managers could dock employees as much as one-third of their monthly pay for sloppy work, cut vacation time and even force substance abusers to work as long as three months without pay. Perhaps the most spectacular measure was a police search in public places for workers, who left their work to go drinking or shopping during regular hours. The employees who drank to excess and failed to correct this behavior could be sent for compulsory treatment in psychiatric hospitals. If the medical model failed, the final step might be arrest on the charge of being a parasite.

Yet Andropov’ s rule was too short-lived and we have few estimates of the  success or failure of his program. After only about a year and three months in office, Andropov died. He was replaced by Konstantin Ustinovich Chernenko (73), Brezhnev’ s ally and already a sick man, who lived for barely another year. Then, on March 11, 1985, Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev, Andropov’s fifty-four–year old protege, was elected by the Politburo to the General Secretaryship of the Party.

Gorbachev, himself raised in a non-drinking family, was convinced about the enormous damage alcohol abuse caused the Soviet state. He saw the attack on drinking as a strategically important for the success of his campaign of modernization in Soviet society, perestroika (re-building). But for Gorbachev, a diehard communist, the “old good” values of Lenin were just fine, the only problem was that they were not functioning well. So he addressed himself initially, not to the radical changes in economical and institutional structure, but more to the  “uskorenie” or speed-up of the existent order, without touching its principles. The campaign against alcohol was considered as “politically safe”. Among a long list of mistakes, it was probably the biggest he made.

“Perestroika, Gorbachev's proposed rebuilding of the Soviet country and system, was loud in promise but, everything considered, initially quite similar to the proposals and exhortations of earlier Soviet reformers. The draft plan, as presented by Gorbachev in October 1985, called for doubling the national income in fifteen years, with special emphasis on the modernization of equipment and an increase in labor productivity. It was all-important to overcome stagnation, to get the Soviet Union moving. But although the leader spoke of a "radical transformation of all spheres of life" and although such concepts as profits and profitability, decentralization, initiative, and even market economy and private enterprise increasingly entered national discourse, in practice the effort was limited mainly to an attempt at a speed up, in particular by eliminating such evils as absenteeism and drunkenness - witness the major anti-alcohol campaign mounted in May 1985 and in subsequent months and years.” [19]

In April, the Politburo approved a set of major anti-drinking measures. In May 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev enacted a program titled “On Measures to Overcome Drunkenness and Alcoholism” [20] , commonly known as the “Anti – Alcohol Campaign”. The cornerstone of Gorbachev’s Campaign was a cut in the production and sale of alcoholic beverages, combined with hefty price increases and a number of administrative penalties for alcohol abuse which he borrowed from Andropov’s rule. The battle was really formidable. The state production of alcohol was remarkably reduced by 50%, and about two thousand production plants were closed. Many world-famous vineyards in Georgia, Moldavia, and Armenia were totally demolished. The number of alcohol retailers was reduced by 55%; from the initial 238.000 to only 108.000 remaining; and the number of restaurants and cafes where alcohol was sold reduced by 70%. [21] Liquor stores were closed during working hours, and the sale was prohibited for persons under the age of 21. The cost of some alcoholic beverages was again doubled. The alcohol factories were switched to the production of soft drinks and fruit juices which were encouraged, and the price of these items were heavily subsidized. Yet because the factories did not have the right machines, the juices were of such a bad quality that no one wanted them.

 Gorbachev used “Glasnost’” (openness) to convince the population on the necessity of measures against alcohol abuse. Alcoholic drinks disappeared from official celebrations. Gorbachev became known as the “Mineral Secretary” rather than the General Secretary of the Communist Party. The newspapers were full of horror stories about broken families, lost children, work accidents and other negative consequences of excessive drinking behavior. In the most dramatic way, the reader was introduced to the very idea that alcohol was more evil, than pleasurable. The “All-Union Voluntary Temperance Promotion Society” (now the “All-Russian Sobriety Society”), established by the Soviet Council of Ministers shortly after the anti-alcohol decree, was designed to propagate the ultimate goal of complete sobriety. Its journal, “Sobriety and Culture” (Trezvost’ i Kultura) pressed for prohibition and attacked those who argued for a more tolerant attitude towards drinking. While this organization claimed to be a club of 14 million people, it later emerged that membership was often not voluntary at all. The idea of complete sobriety was too radical for the Russian people who believed that vodka was an integral part of their traditional culture.

 According to the official Soviet statistics, exceptional progress had been made: in three years per capita consumption of state-produced alcoholic beverages was reduced by more than 50%. [22]

The official statistical series on mortality and morbidity showed a significant improvement. In the first one-and-a-half years of the anti-alcohol campaign the overall mortality rate dropped from 10,6 to 9,7 per 1000 and the diagnosis of “alcohol psychosis” dropped by 24%. In addition, for the first 2 years the drinking on the work site was reduced by 50%, absenteeism resulting from drunkenness was cut by 50% and alcohol related accidents and trauma were reduced by 36,8%. [23] The number of divorces decreased, the birth rate went up and life expectancy somewhat stabilized.

 However, I do not think it is possible in just one-and-a-half years to achieve such significant progress with the medical indicators. Heavy alcohol-related diseases like psychosis (Delirium Tremens) and cirrhoses of liver takes several years to develop, so would the reduction in drinking produce such a rapid changes in alcohol mortality as recorded in the official statistics? [24]

According to official Soviet data, the average number of deaths in 1986 and 1987 compared to 1984 had declined by about 200.000. [25] Dr. Alexander Nemtsov, a well-known Russian specialist on alcoholism, estimated that the anti-alcohol campaign saved 700.000 lives in Russia in 1985-1987. [26]

Vladimir Treml, who disagrees with Nemtsov, pointed that this figure is based on the “rather simplistic manipulation of statistics and cannot be accepted as valid”:

“I believe that the beneficial demographic, health, and social effects of Gorbachev’ s anti-drinking campaign have been misinterpreted and generally significantly overstated. We can start by noting that some statistical data had been “doctored” or manipulated to present a more favorable picture of the campaign’s results. It is now a well-established fact that Gorbachev directed Goskomstat USSR to change the formula used in national income accounting to produce artificially high rates of growth in the 1985-1987 period.” [27]

The manipulation of statistics had been practiced in USSR for many years, both in the governmental level and at the lower level. So it was, for example, quite simple for police to follow the strategic line of the Party by not mentioning influence of alcohol in recording auto accidents and crimes, and for the medical staff to soften their reports by reducing the number of fatal alcoholic cases. Also, administrative penalties played the important role. For example, a drunk who might have seriously injured himself at work, would wait a couple of hours before visiting a doctor in order to lower the alcohol level in the blood and avoid confrontation with factory management.  

Did Soviet citizens stop drinking as much as before the campaign? No, it just drove drinking underground. Despite the strong measures against illegal brewing, the moonshine or samogon business flourished as never before. Samogon is an alcoholic beverage produced by untaxed illegal home distillation of fermented food stuff such as grain, sugar beets, potatoes, and other vegetables and fruit.  The alcohol content of samogon is usually about 40%. The escalating use of sugar for the production of samogon resulted in rationing of this commodity for the first time since World War II.

After the second price increase in August 1986, one liter of vodka was sold at the shop for 20 ruble’s which is equivalent to about 2 days salary. But even for this price, people were ready to stand in a kilometer-long line. The production cost of one liter of samogon was about 1,5 rubles, and it was easy available on tochka’s for 7-10 rubles (flats where illegal alcohol was sold, generally by elderly women - babushka’s). While Russia has a great tradition of home brewing, not everyone made his moonshine vodka for sale with the same honesty and punctuality. The quality of samogon (depending on the ingredients used, method of distillation and filtration) can vary from a toxic and evil-smelling brownish brew to a clear nice quality vodka-type beverage. Because of the primitive distilling process, samogon already contains poisonous fusel oil, and it was quite a common practice to add “strange” elements to the drink, such as birds droppings or car brake fluid, in order to achieve the characteristic taste and a “stronger smash”.

Numerous heavy drinkers switched to the consumption of alcohol-related surrogates. The use of commercial products that contained alcohol, like cologne, insecticide, antifreeze, and solvents increased rapidly and these commodities became scarce. According to a report to the Central Committee of the Communist Party on the progress of Gorbachev's anti-drinking campaign, sales of certain types of alcohol-based glue increased from 760 tons in 1985 to 1,000 tons in 1987; sales of glass cleaners increased from 6,500 to 7,400 tons in the same period; and sales of perfumery products, which averaged 3.2 billion rubles in the 1983-1984 period, rose to 4.5 billion rubles in 1987. [28]

Increased home brewing of samogon and the consumption of alcohol-related surrogates not only meant that the government lost control over much of the production of alcohol, but it also meant that even more Russians were drinking something of poor quality or contaminated by one or another poison. The mortality from fatal alcohol poisoning is the most alarming phenomenon of the campaign.

According to Vladimir Treml, the references to samogon and surrogates as the major cause of fatal alcohol poisoning can be misleading, and in all probability the majority of deaths is caused by drinking standard state-produced vodka in large amounts. [29] Yet it should be noticed that the widespread presence of poisonous “krutka”  (falsified state alcohol) also contributed, but by mistake since it was statistically count as an “original” state product.

In fact, during the height of the anti-alcohol campaign deaths related to the consumption of alcohol increased when other indicators of alcohol use remained stable.

FIGURE 1: Correlation between per capita alcohol consumption and mortality rates. [30]

1980                                                 1989

1: Per capita consumption of alcoholic beverages. 2: Overall mortality. 3: Mortality due to causes related to alcohol consumption. 4: Mortality due to accidents. 5: Hospitalization of cases of alcohol psychosis.

There is no doubt that the reduction in per capita consumption and administrative measures of 1985 – 1987 must have had some beneficial results, but by far not the results attributed to the campaign. Like many of the Gorbachev’s reforms, the anti-alcohol campaign was poorly thought out, and executed hastily and unevenly on the sandcastle foundation of seven decades of socialist hypocrisy. The public was gravely dissatisfied with the means to these ends; Russians simply resented sobriety by decree. The battle against alcohol became one that the citizen felt was not winnable. So it is not surprising, that during the late 1980s the anti-alcohol campaign was purposely slowed down, and although alcohol prices were kept high, liquor stores hours expanded and the supply of alcohol increased again.

What was the consequence of Gorbachev’s anti-drinking campaign?

The anti-alcohol campaign did not represent a complete break with the Brezhnev policy (Gorbachev did not banned alcohol), but it was a reinforcement of the position of the strong state which came close to zero tolerance. Brezhnev’s policy symbolized a compromise between the State and society. The strong State held the principle that only those who repeatedly violate the rules of society (chronic alcoholics) are punished. However, during Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign, the whole population suffered from extreme administrative measures, kilometer-long lines to the shops and fatal alcohol poisoning from surrogates. Thus, the strong state reconfirmed itself vis-a-vis drinking society.   

Why did the intention of the strong State to change the model fail?

1)  It failed simply because it was doomed to failure. To break a deep-seated habit by repression generally does not work.

2) Before the campaign began, over 13% of the government’s revenue had been derived from taxes on alcohol. During the height of the Campaign the Soviet government annually lost between 8 and 11 billion rubles (equivalent US$ 13 to 17 billion, 1990 exchange rate) in liquor tax revenue. [31] The state fills the budget gap simply by printing more money which caused high inflation. Moreover, the campaign, insofar as it was effective, freed up purchasing power that would have otherwise been spent on alcohol. This, combined with the fall-off of revenues to the state from a decline in alcohol sales, contributed to massive shortages of all kinds of consumer goods in the economy.

3)  I believe that although economic considerations were important, they were not the main reason why the campaign was abandoned, but it was rejected because of the numerous protests due to the human rights violations, both domestic and abroad. Glasnost’ was growing. Criticism of the campaign grew louder. The first very important resonance of Glasnost’ was an acquittal of Stalin terror victims. The society was literally screaming for the need of liberalization. The people just wanted to escape the past. I think that Gorbachev understood very well that keeping the anti-alcohol campaign would be pretty much in common with communist traditions. One cannot speak about democracy, if there is repression of this kind at home.

What lessons were learned from the anti-alcohol campaign by the next generation of Russian politicians? Generally speaking, the position of the strong state was again weakened. The pendulum swung back once more. More in particular:

1)  Six hundred years after it first appeared in Russia, vodka is still an inviolable part of Russian culture and cuisine. Because the drinking traditions are simply too strong, an attack on alcohol is easily seen as an attack on tradition resulting in human rights violations.

2) It will drive ever more people into purchasing fake vodka and using surrogates, and that in turn will only exacerbate the health risks to the population.

3)  It will reduce state revenues from alcohol sales.

The public outrage at Gorbachev’s campaign taught President Boris El’tsin an important lesson: trying to get Russians to stop drinking in order to improve their physical and moral well-being would almost certainly be hazardous to any leader’s political health. For El’tsin the choice was very simple: himself a notorious drinker, liked to be part of the folk. In the West, El’tsin’s drinking habit became anecdotal, but for many Russians it was a big pleasure to see the President who’s drinking. During the second presidential election, his image-makers accented and used the concept of the President who is close to the ordinary people. It is much more pleasant for the Russian soul to see the President who’s singing and dancing, therefore thus surely drunk, than scare communist Ziuganov or Pinochet-like General Lebed’.

We should not forget the pressure from the private business sector, which had become eager to accumulate large profits from the production and distribution of alcohol. This not only influences the economics of CIS countries, but also political decisions. Taking any steps to cut consumption will be politically risky, because Russians now see the private production and sale of alcoholic beverages as their right under a free market. And this trend is now being reinforced by the Western alcohol industry, which is ever searching to expand into the new markets – especially in the face of declining demand in their own countries.

How did the anti-alcohol policy influence the pattern of the drug use and the formation of drug policy?

1.      People thought that those who used vodka would not switch to drugs. But my hypothesis is that in the country were the alcohol is the part of the traditional culture, the policy of suppression led to the search for a substance substitute. I assume that marijuana or homemade opiates are more attractive than shoe-polish or car brake fluid. Drugs can also be cheaper than alcohol and easy to obtain (like in Kazakhstan or South Ukraine, for example).

2.      The failure of the alcohol campaign influenced the creation of a new drug policy, in that this failure suggested that a future anti-drug campaign would also be senseless.

“In 1987, 17% of the Soviet citizens questioned believed that alcohol use was a problem that could never be defeated. By late 1988, 58% of those polled no longer regarded victory in the struggle against alcoholism and, by then, drug use to be attainable.” [32]

There was no reason for policymakers to be strong: AIDS was not known in Russia at that time, drugs were known, but still in the shadows, the drug maffia did not exist, the society was liberal-orientated. Why invest enormous sums in drug law enforcement and attract unnecessary attention to illegal drug use? If the anti-alcohol campaign does not work, why should the narcotics campaign?

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is its own troubles.”  (Matthew 6:34)

3. Geography and the history of drugs in the USSR: “whiter than white” image (the Soviet period).

“Once all struggle is grasped, miracles are possible.”


“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”



3.1. Patterns of drug use

When a young American, who had been in Soviet Union at the first half of 1970s, was asked what he had heard and seen of the drug problem there, he replied: “Nothing. Besides, the way they drink, they don’t need drugs to go on a trip”. [33]

The Soviets insisted that drugs were strictly capitalist and bourgeois phenomena. As a Soviet journalist wrote in 1963, “there is no special milieu” for drug abuse under socialism: “We have no flophouses or gambling dens, no oppressed or underprivileged people, no unemployment, no moral emptiness or uncertainty about the coming day...”. [34]

In 1979, the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Drugs of the Ministry of Health of the USSR, Eduard A. Babaian, proudly stated:

“During the very first years following the October revolution the custom of drug use was completely eradicated. The success may first and foremost be attributed to the new social conditions that were created for the population, such as the elimination of unemployment, prostitution, beggary and vagrancy as well as raising the people’s economic and cultural standard of living. ... The state system of health services makes it possible to take effective steps to prevent and treat drug addiction. Addicts mainly consist of chronically ill or seriously disabled persons who have taken narcotic drugs, such as morphine and codeine on account of their primary illness. There are isolated cases of use of some wild varieties of cannabis. During the last decade there was not a single case of heroin addiction; the production and use of this substance has long been prohibited. There is no incidence of cocaine, LSD or amphetamine addiction.” [35]

According to Eduard A. Babaian, in 1976 there were approximately 2,000 people in the USSR who used drugs on a regular basis, mostly World War II veterans who had become addicted as a result of treatment for wounds received during the war. [36]

But closed sources showed another picture. According to Bronnikov (who in 1972 wrote a Ph.D. thesis on the proliferation of narcotics in Moscow High School of the Ministry of Internal Affairs), in 1965 there were 23.714 registered drug users by the organization of public health of the country. Toward the end of 1971, it counted already more than 50 thousand of them. [37]   In the city of Moscow in 1968, there were 1137 registered drug users, in 1970, already 2049.  Among them the young people ranging from age from 18 to 25 years composed 58,6%, and minors under 18, 19,4%. [38]

However, mainly because of the unavailability of real statistics the overall assessment was (also in the West) that “the Soviet Union seemed to have a minimal drug problem”. [39] Yet, this is not entirely true. The USSR “whiter-than-white-cleaner-than-clean” image can be slightly exaggerated, but not very much. There was a certain amount of drug use. Despite the lack of information, it is possible to define three basic patterns of the use of narcotics – 1) South Asian, 2) Elitist use in the big cities by mostly artists and students, 3) Drug use in places of imprisonment.

1.      South Asia.

The USSR represented a landmass of over thirteen and one-half million square kilometers, an area larger than the entire North American continent. Over 100 different ethnic groups are located basically in three geographic zones. In the west and north are predominately the Slavic and European peoples, the ones generally referred to when typical Russians are mentioned. Russian culture and heavy alcohol consumption are typical. About 25 million Russians are spread, in a varying density, throughout all the non-Russian Republics. In the east, the smallest ethnic group is of Mongolian and Chinese origin. The rapidly growing Central Asian people live mainly in the South, are distinguished by their Moslem tradition, which frowns on alcohol use and has made hashish a part of life.

There is the evidence that the Communist authorities tolerated a certain amount of hashish smoking in the South Asia, especially by elderly citizens. [40]

“Visitors to Uzbekistan, Tadzhikistan, Kirghizia and other Central Asian and Moslem areas have all observed men taking a drag or two from a “joint” in public, then throwing it away as if it were an ordinary cigarette.” [41]

Because the spread of narcotics in these Republics did not significantly affect a large number of Russians, drug use by Central Asians was of little concern to the ethnically chauvinist Russian leaders. [42]

Another important point is on the availability of narcotics. In the region of Central Asian and Transcaucasus Republics are some of the richest opium and cannabis fields. In the sunny Chuiskaya Valley of Kazakhstan, about a million hectares of land are covered with wild Cannabis sativa, so it is not surprising that the level of consumption there was very high. For example in Latvia, the same Cannabis plant can also be found, but due to the cold climate the psychoactive qualities are minimal. Cannabis had to be imported from other regions, making it difficult to obtain and much more expensive. In 1972, the price of one hundred grams of hashish in Moscow was around 10 rubles, or approximately $15. The price was reported to be three to five times higher in other central Russian cities. [43] However, in order to buy it, one would have to be a very “well-connected” person.

2.      Elitist use.

But not only South Asians consumed drugs in the Soviet Union. “There are isolated cases of use of some wild varieties of cannabis”, said Babaian. Those “isolated cases” were the artists and students in the big cities of the Soviet Union.

One advantage for a student taking a job on a kolkhoz in the southern regions of the country during summer vacation was the easy access to cannabis.

“Several university students questioned on whether they felt they had a social responsibility to report drug use among their peers, answered a unanimous “no”. As long as it didn’t harm anyone else, drug use was a “private affair”, they said.” [44]

It is clear that in the USSR those who were experimenting with drugs originated from the upper-middle class of society. In contrast with the working class, which continued to seek escape through alcohol, they were more likely to think it sophisticated and modern to be part of Western youth culture. According to the research of Dr. A. A. Gabiani, the social status and the living conditions of those questioned in 1984-1985 were good; 5,4% of respondents were from the families of high-ranking officials, 45% estimated the relations with parents as “very good”, and 33,1% as “satisfactory”. [45]

Before the anti-alcohol campaign began, drug use in major Russian cities had an “elitist” character and was rather stable or slightly growing.

3.      Drug use in the places of imprisonment.

Certainly the use of narcotics was widespread in places of imprisonment. The conditions in the correctional-working establishments (ITU – Ispravitel’no-Trudovoe Ucherezhdenie) made it impossible to completely close access to narcotics. Prisoners, returning from work in the external production units to the habitable zone, frequently carried narcotics through the checkpoints. Furthermore, narcotic drugs were obtained by means of the corrupt officials of ITU, by mail, by air-lift through the system of enclosure and during visits with relatives. 

 According to Bronnikov, 65-70% of those condemned began to use narcotics precisely in the period while serving punishment in ITU. Among the inspected contingent, 39% proved to be users of strong/firm tea - chifir, 48% - poly-drugs users and the rest 13% - hash and morphine users. [46]  

3.2. The illegal proliferation of narcotics and law enforcement

Until the late 80s, the Soviet Union had the reputation of being largely free from drug sales.

However, there are indications that narcotics were stolen from the state sowings. According to the estimates of the specialists of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Public Health of the USSR, from each hectare of state sowings of the opium poppy on average 5-10 kg of opium-raw material was stolen. Only in Kirghizia, in central Tian’ Shan’ and Talasskaia Valley, for state production of opium were occupied 6400-6700 hectares by 73 kolkhozes. In 1969, the organization of internal affairs confiscated 237 kg of opium-raw probably descending from the state fields, that accounted for only 0,35-0,7% of what had been stolen. Consequently, more than 99% of the stolen opium was not withdrawn and by different methods and channels reached the users of narcotics. [47]

Presumably the people who sell drugs at that time were typically from Central-Asian and Caucasian origin. Another major supplier were gypsies, who brought the drugs from East-European countries. While the data in the next diagram represents the situation in the first half of nineties, I suppose that there were no significant changes before about 1995.

FIGURE 2. Ethnic Narco-Crime 1992-1995 in the Russian Federation – selected data on a population of 100,000 ethnic peoples. [48]


In 1975, Dr. Vsevolod Kozluk, head of the Department of Prophylactic Medicine, Ministry of Public Health, Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, admitted at the interview with Laura Stump, an representative of the New York State Drug Abuse Control Commission, to “having heard” of black market traffic in drugs in port cities, placing the blame for this on “seamen and other foreigners”. [49]

In the USSR, smuggled drugs made up less than 1% of the total illicit market and did not seriously influence the spread of drug use. [50] The country’s well-organized frontier and Customs services virtually precluded the smuggling in of drugs from abroad.

In all probability the illegal production of narcotics on a large scale did not exist in the USSR. However, sometimes stories about the underground laboratories in the USSR appeared in Western sources.

“In November 1972 foreign newsmen and diplomats in Moscow were told by unofficial but usually reliable sources that police in the capital had uncovered a group of scientists at the Institute of Natural Compounds who were manufacturing LSD. A cache of one kg of LSD was discovered. At least one chemist at the institute, which is part of the Soviet Academy of sciences, was arrested.

A report on the incident was sent to other chemical and biological institutes, where it was read at staff meetings. But no news of it was ever published in the Soviet press.

In 1970 an illegal heroin-making operation was apparently uncovered at a pharmaceutical institute in Pyatigorsk in the Northern Caucasus. No report was ever published on that incident either, though news of it eventually reached foreign correspondents in Moscow.” [51]

A cache of 1 kg of LSD mentioned at the article would be enough for the whole population of the Soviet Union to get stoned, because an amount of 0,0001g is a workable substance. Thus, this information cannot be accepted as reliable. Of course we do not know, but I do not believe in the existence of the heroin laboratory in Russia in 1973.

According to Min’kovskii, the statistic of registered cases of narcotics speculation before the second half of eighties was close to zero. [52]  

Until the late 1980s, the domestic drug market was virtually non-existent.

The Soviet law enforcement and customs agencies have occasionally seized quantities of drugs transiting the USSR.

“A number of U.S. and Canadian citizens were arrested and convicted for smuggling hashish into the USSR. All of them were caught within an eight to nine-months period from late summer 1967 to spring 1968 smuggling hashish into Tashkent from Kabul, Afghanistan. The Kabul – Tashkent –Leningrad – Scandinavia hashish route was closed effectively in mid-summer 1968 and the last of those caught in it were released from Soviet prison camps in 1971.” [53]

While the Soviet Union was a party to most international conventions and protocols (including 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances), for many years Moscow rejected any suggestions to join Interpol, because of secrecy of own police organization and the official doctrine that drug addiction was a social evil experienced only by decadent capitalist nations.

Due to its excellent customs service, the Soviet Union enjoyed the reputation of being free of drug transiting routes.

3.3. The narcotics legislation

In the first months of its existence, the Council of Peoples' Commissars, by the order of 31 June 1918, issued a circumstance called "About Combating the Cocaine Speculation", that imputed the fight with the criminal element, connected with narcotics, to the responsibility of the law enforcement. Somewhat lately, the Council of Peoples' Commissars issued a letter "About the opium smuggling", in which the need for the fastest liquidation of the channels of the half-legal transfer of this narcotic from Persia to China through the Eastern Siberia cities was indicated. [54]

Of the five first Criminal Codes of the Republics of the USSR (Azerbaijan, Russia, Ukraine, Belorussia and Georgia), only in the Criminal Code of Azerbaijan SSR, in effect from 1 February 1923, was an article 215a, included in this Code on 17 November 1923, that established responsibility for the crimes connected with the narcotics. [55]

The Criminal Code of the RSFSR of 1926 provided only one provision directed against narcotics. This provision was contained in Art.104, in Chapter Two of “Special Part” under the title "Other crimes against the order of control". This article consists of two parts. The first part established responsibility for " production and storage for the purpose of sale and sale of cocaine, opium, morphine, and other dope substances without the proper permission". The second installed the responsibility for "the same actions, accomplished in the form of trade, and equally the keeping of dens, in which the enumerated in this article substances are being sold or being consumed". In 1928, under a special decree on the regulation of trading in narcotic substances, the free circulation of cocaine and its salts, of hashish, opium, morphine, heroin, dionine and of pantopone (mixed alkaloids of opium) was prohibited in the USSR.

In 20-30 years the organization of Internal Affairs acquired specific experience in the suppression of narcotics, to a large degree the centralization of anti-narcotic legislation contributed. In 1934, the Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars issued a decree prohibiting the sowing of opium poppy and cannabis, except in areas in which the harvests were used exclusively to satisfy the medical needs of the USSR.  Otherwise the sowing was considered a criminal offence and all such crops were to be confiscated. [56] Changes in the Criminal Codes of Union Republics were simultaneously introduced.  

Drug possession in small amounts without intention to sell and the personal use of drugs warranted no penalty before 1974.

As it was noted, questions relating to narcotic drugs are reflected in the Criminal Code. There is not a Soviet Criminal Code as such, each Republic has its own Code, and there are certain differences due to the individual characteristics of the Republics. These differences, however, are not very significant. The central Code is the Criminal Code of RSFSR, and it should be kept in mind that there are analogous articles in the Criminal Codes of the Union Republics. So, for example, under the 1974 Decree the use of narcotics without medical prescription became illegal in Central Asian Republics as well, but police tolerated mere use.

In June 1969 the Georgian Republic Supreme Soviet passed an anti-narcotics law that imposed penalties at least twice as severe as those in the Criminal Codes in any Soviet Republic. So, for example, dealers now faced up to 10 years imprisonment, while by previous legislation it was 5 years and applied only when selling to or procuring drugs for juveniles under 18 years of age. But more important, that for the first time anywhere in USSR, the Georgian law also made use of drugs an offense instead of a misdemeanor. Under the new edict, users, if they were first-time offenders, faced 10 to 15 days compulsory treatment in a special clinic; next time they might be committed for 6 to 12 months in a treatment camp (LTP).

In this light, the Presidium of Supreme Soviet of the USSR on 15.07.1974 issued a new decree entitled “On Re-enforcement of the Fight against Drug Addiction”. [57] This decree not only brought additional severe penalties for illicit drug operations with the intent to traffic (producing, obtaining, possession, transportation, and sending), but it also for the first time introduced similar actions without the intention. Article 224 reads as follows:

“The illegal manufacture, acquisition, storage, transport or dispatch of narcotic drugs for the purpose of sale, as well as their illegal sale, is punishable by a loss of freedom for a period of up to 10 years, with or without confiscation of property.

The same acts, when committed for a second time, or on the basis of a prior conspiracy by a group of persons, or by a person who has previously committed one of the offences provided for in ... the present Code, or by a particularly dangerous recidivist, and also when they involve narcotic drugs in large quantities, are punishable by a loss of freedom for a period of from six to 15 years, with confiscation of property.

The illegal manufacture, acquisition, storage, transport or dispatch of narcotic drugs without the intention of sale is punishable by a loss of freedom for a period of up to three years or by correctional labor for a period of up to one year.

The same acts, when committed for a second time or by a person who has previously committed one of the offences provided for in ... this article and in ... the present Code, are punishable by a loss of freedom for a period of up to five years.

A violation of the established rules governing the production, acqui­sition, storage, recording, release, transport or dispatch of narcotic drugs is punishable by a loss of freedom for a period of up to three years or by correctional labor for a period of up to one year, with or without loss of the right to hold specified offices or to engage in specified activities.”

Thus, according to Art. 224 of the Criminal Code of the RSFSR, the acquisition and the storage of narcotics resulted in penal responsibility, regardless of the fact there was an intent to sale.  

“ Arose the paradoxical situation, when for acquisition and storage of the narcotics without intention for sale, or for the personal use (unfinished activity), responsibility began more severe than for their consumption (finished activity).  This drew the undesirable social consequences: many persons, who consume narcotics, still were possible to return to the normal [socialist] life, and them in 70% of cases were directed into the places of the deprivation of freedom, i.e., into the medium of the increased prevalence of the use of narcotics.” [58]  

The USSR legalized hospitalization of drug users without their consent. [59]   It was not possible to receive confidential treatment. If the drug user declared himself or discovered by authorities, his name would be promptly registered, and he would have to attend compulsory treatment. Those who refused to undergo treatment voluntary, who “violate labor discipline, public order, or the rules of socialist communal living”, or who continue to use narcotics after supposedly been “cured”, are subjects of forcible hospitalization. E.A.Babaian, the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Drugs of the Ministry of Health of the USSR, considers such a policy to be “truly humane”:

“A large number of addicts wish to be treated and co-operate in the therapeutic process; others, however, refuse treatment for various reasons but mainly because they do not consider themselves to be ill. In these instances the psychiatrist must decide whether he will let the patient – and sometimes also his family – gradually perish, or whether he will treat the patient against his will. The author considers the second path to be truly humane. The psychiatrist’s goodwill is, however, not enough to solve the problem; there have to be appropriate legislative acts. According to this juridical principle the group of patients are divided into persons who wish to be treated and those who do not, whereby the latter are to be treated against their will.” [60]

In order do not “let the patient – and sometimes also his family – gradually perish”, the Correctional Labor Code of the RSFSR of 1 January 1979 and the corresponding correctional labor codes of the Union Republics included a special article, Article 58, entitled "Compulsory Treatment of Alcoholics and Drug Addicts Deprived of Freedom”, which provided the following:

“If the convicted person’s treatment has not been completed by the time that person is released from confinement, … , the administration of the correctional labor institution shall apply to the court to have that person’s compulsory treatment continued at a medical institution with a special regime of treatment and work.” [61]

Because of lack of narcologists and special clinics, those who underwent compulsory treatment were generally placed in LTP [lechebno-trudovoi profilaktorii - labor therapy prophylactoria] centers for alcoholics. Every Republic of the USSR had a few of them. Those who were sentenced for trading or drugs possession were localized inside the Soviet penal camp system, so in each Republic there were one or two labor camps for “narco-prisoners”, also known as “narcozones” [narkozona]. The first time offenders convicted for a minor offence such as drug possession were placed in “General Regime” [obshchii rezhim] camps. The first time offenders sentenced for a more serious crime such as drug dealing, were detained in a “Stricter Regime” [strogii rezhim] camp. Repeat offenders were moved up to the next level, so those who had previously been in the “General Regime” camp were placed in a “Stricter Regime”, and repeat offenders from the “Stricter Regime” were taken to the “Special Regime” [special’nii rezhim]. The conditions in the “Special Regime” camp were extremely harsh and most convicts were known as maniacs and very dangerous criminals.

“Here is an example of the conditions of detention of a 22-year-old man, Valery Plotnikov, who was sent to one of the “General Regime narcozones”. Methods of repressive medicine were used for his forced treatment from 1986 to 1989, which included: “SHIZO” [shtrafnoi izoliaator] (a special cell with extreme conditions of detention), the use of a strait-jacket, Sulfazine, Moditen-Depot [fluphenazine hydrochloride], and shock therapy. After this treatment, a patient cannot walk or eat without assistance for several months.

And what crime prompted this extreme intervention? The prisoner had been accused of possession of 40 grams of ground poppy heads.” [62]

“We don’t want to make things easy or pleasant for him”, - said Dr. Vsevolod Kozluk, head of the Department of Prophylactic Medicine, Ministry of Public Health, Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. [63]

In spite of this distinction in the camps’ hierarchy of punishment, there was effectively no difference in treatment methods between LTP and the “narcozone”. The cornerstones in both were hard work and intensive therapy, and the conditions were harsh. Marxist – Leninist ideology, until recently the dominant influence on USSR policy in the treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction, held that “work therapy” was the pivotal component in the correction of deviant behavior. All these people were kept together and not separated into beginners and old users. Visitors and gift packages were prohibited. The facilities and staff carefully screened by police. Any reported misbehavior of the “patient” was punished by a cell or injection of the special medicine which was also used for “zombifying” of “schizophrenic” political dissidents, the effect of this is the lose of personality.

To conclude, the Soviet Union narcotics legislation was based on heavy prohibition and compulsory treatment. The drug users received the same “treatment” (the right word for it is a horrible terror) as other deviants of the Soviet society.

3.6. Summary of the drug policy

Each individual case of narcotic use was considered exceptional. During the Soviet period, the use of narcotics was elevated into the rank of the state security. To mention narcotics in the press was strictly forbidden by appropriate instructions from the Ministry of Health. 

V.V. Gul'dman, the Director of the Laboratory of Socio-Psychological Studies of the Narcotics Addiction (All-Union Scientific Center of Narcology, Ministry of Health USSR), and Doctor of Psychological Sciences, was promoted in 1985 on another subject than drug use. But the word “narcotic” was pitiless from the text crossed out by censorship. [64]

The facts and figures about the situation of drug use in the USSR are hopelessly scarce. Official Soviet statistics on drugs were not made public; may be it did not even exist; but even if it existed, it was not officially analyzed. It was a priori considered that into the socialist society the conditions for the phenomena of drug use does not exist, point.

“There was only one scientific substance abuse journal (“The Issues of Narcology”) and over 90% of its content is concerned with research in this three areas [biochemical research, clinical treatment programs (but not rehabilitation) and school education initiatives]. The number of researchers into other substance-related problems (especially policy and prevention) is limited, and most of these reside in Moscow. During Soviet times the authorities relied little on alcohol and drug policy. There was very little academic research, and what did exist was underdeveloped, while in other parts of the former USSR it was nonexistent.” [65]

The primitive drug policy in the USSR was based on the same “ambivalent” principle as its alcohol policy. A certain amount of use in Central Asia, where hashish is the part of traditional culture, was tolerated. In other Republics, drug use had an incidental character and was generally ignored. But repeated offenders were punished the same way as other deviants, i.e., extremely harshly.

4. How the Russians rediscovered drugs (the second period, 1987-1990)

“There exists no politician in India daring enough to attempt to explain to the masses that cows can be eaten.”



4.1. Patterns of drug use

As it was pointed out in the previous chapter, two major factors influence the extent of the drug use in the USSR: the climatic conditions and the traditions. Before about 1987, Soviet Union had two patterns of the drug use:

a)     the South Asian, distinguished by the tradition;

b)     in the big cities, mostly “elitist” use by students and artists.

At the late 80s, two additional patterns were emerged:

c)      the drug use as a substitute for the unavailable alcohol;

d)     by Afghanistan veterans.

In 1987, Interior Minister Aleksandr Vlasov announced that there are 46,000 “registered drug addicts” in the Soviet Union and that 80 per cent of them were under the age of 30. [66] In 1989, this figure was officially estimated at 130,000, and according to many authoritative Western and Soviet sources, the actual number should be at least ten times higher. [67]

What changed and what factors contributed to the increase in drug use?

a) The phenomenon of both relaxation (glasnost’) and repression (anti-alcohol campaign).

Glasnost’ had led to a relaxation of social and legal taboos. The society suddenly rediscovered drugs. The official media, which has the strongest influence, began to discuss the subject of drugs openly for the first time since the 1920s. From May 1986 till May 1987 there were about 140 articles about narcotics in the official newspapers and magazines. [68] It should be noted that the press, still operating based on orders from the top, in a vast majority of publications painted drug users as criminals and parasites. Paradoxically, it brought a tolerant attitude toward drug users, because the society already sympathized with publicly condemned alcoholics. The novel of Chingiz Aitmatov  "The Executioner stone" (“Plakha”), which describes the life of drug users, became a bestseller.

Among young men, mostly students, the use of drugs slowly became fashionable. Many were simply seeking to have fun and regarded drugs as a modern and sophisticated substitute for drinking. Still others acted out of a feeling of political alienation; for them, the use of drugs symbolizes rejection of the system, an act of social defiance. Long before Gorbachev, in the years following the Khrushchev thaw, hints of Western youth culture seeped through the Iron curtain. Yet during the Soviet era, authorities could arrest anyone with long hair or dressed hippie style. For now, young men were no longer happy to be Komsomol kids, marching stupidly to the tune called by the state.

Once exotic product, the use of drugs left the specific social space and slowly became fashionable among the young people. 

How did alcohol prohibition influence the use of drugs?

As noted above, the hypothesis is that in a country were alcohol is the part of the traditional culture, the policy of suppression led to searching for a substance substitute. According to the report on a joint UNDCP/WHO Mission to Latvia, 1-3 June 1992,

“One of the alleged reasons for a rise in the number of “drug addicts” is the anti-alcohol campaign since 1985 which made alcohol beverages difficult to obtain”. [69]

It is paradoxical, but the increase in the freedom, introduced with the policy of glasnost’, at the same time means it decrease, because it was coupled with the policy of substance use suppression. Both directions led to one and the same result – growing popularity of drug use.

b) South Asia: the Afghan War.

Young men who served in Afghanistan had no access to alcohol since it is an Islamic country, but drugs such as hashish, heroin and LSD were plentiful, cheap, easy obtainable and were used extensively by soldiers to relieve stress and boredom. In a survey of Afghan War veterans, 22,2% had experience with heroin and 11,1 with LSD, [70] not to mention hashish.

The situation seems to be quit similar to that of the Vietnam veterans. But the difference is that the majority of Americans came back to a safe and prosperous country, while Russians returning home discovered social disturbances.  The result is that most of the Vietnam veterans stopped using drugs once at home, while their Soviet counterparts continued to use.

“In a survey of 3,000 reservists, 53% of the 1,100 respondents said they had used drugs and almost 27% said they started while they where in the army. In the past 5 years the military has replaced prison as the most pervasive source of a person’s first contact with drugs.” [71]

The drugs of choice in the late 1980s showed the strong influence of the South Asian drug use pattern. More than 80% of the drugs used in the former USSR were derived from cannabis and opium poppies. Drugs stolen or illegally obtained from medical sources accounted for much of the rest. According to the research made by professor A.A. Gabiani in the late 1980s, the drugs of choice were as follows: [72]

TABLE 1: Drugs of Choice, late 80s

Hashish                              55 %

Koknar (poppy straw)       20 %

Opium                                20 %

Codeine tablets                13,3%

Promedol (dimerol)           13%

Ephedrine                          11%

Morphine                            11%


Cocaine and heroin were also reported, but because of the scarcity and extremely high price these were drugs of choice for a mere of 1,5% of Soviet users.

The war in Afghanistan led to a mixing of the Russian and Central Asian cultures and is the primary cause of an inordinate growth in drug use in late 1980s. The South Asian drug use pattern spreads throughout Russia.

4.3. The illegal proliferation of narcotics and law enforcement

At the domestic level, the main efforts were concentrated in the area of illicit drug cultivation and eradication. Numerous resources were used to collect information on the dimensions of plots and crop productivity, including those of institutions of geodesy and cartography, satellite photography, civil, agricultural and military aviation. Special attention was paid to biologically eradicating wild cannabis growth. But aerial spraying of herbicides, the most common way of eradicating large areas of wild cannabis inevitable led to erosion and other serious damaging environmental consequences. As a result, mechanical and even manual eradication methods were mostly employed, though these measures were quite ineffective, taking in account that there are no less than 300,000 square kilometers of area wild plants growing only in Kazakhstan and the simple fact that controlling them is a very lucrative undertaking. [73]

TABLE 2: Illegal crop cultivation, 1988 – 1998 [74]

Number of illicit plots uncovered



















28 648


“During an operation, code-named “Poppy-86”, more than 7,500 acres of illegal crops, and 250,000 acres of wild hemp had been destroyed and more than 4,000 drug dealers were arrested,”- said Soviet Interior Minister Alexander Vlasov.” [75]

Especially surprising at this statement is a number of “drug – dealers arrested” in a 1986 “drug-free” USSR – more than 4,000 (!) during one operation.

Is this a side- effect of Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign, which during this time was about at its height?  May be, but one thing is for sure: most of these “drug-dealers” were just young men, students, caught with some quantity of marijuana for own use (I will return to this question in Chapter 4.4).

The first heavy flood of drugs swamped the territory of the USSR during the period of the Afghanistan war. In 1990, the Pravda daily newspaper published a very unusual article about drug dealing activity among some of the high ranking diplomats who used to work in the Afghanistan cities of Kabul and Masar-i-Sharif. [76] Remarkably, two of the most influential officials who had been engaged in smuggling were not brought to court, but only dismissed from their jobs. “How long will people like former Consul General Melushin and former Consul Babkin be allowed to continue to get away with it?” – asked a journalist.

Also in 1990, another official newspaper, Izvestiia, published information on police corruption in Central Asia. [77] Some policemen from the city of Chardzhou, Turkmenia, who had tried to fight against the local narcomaffia, were dismissed on the orders of their chiefs. The newspaper also claims to have information on connections between party bosses in Turkmenistan and the narcomaffia.

As an outcome of the war in Afghanistan, the first extensive drug supply network emerged and drugs began to spread quickly to other parts of the population.

The state of affairs have changed under the Glasnost’ era. In 1987, the USSR joined the United Nations Fund for Drug Abuse Control. In 1988, it signed the United Nations Conventions on Combating Illicit Trafficking in Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. In 1990, the former Soviet Interior Minister Vadim Bakatin signed an application to join Interpol.

As a result, Soviet enforcement agencies start seeking more active cooperation with foreign counterparts. Colonel Alexander Sergeev and Captain Sergei Avdienko were among the first officers from General Department of Criminal Investigations, Ministry of Internal Affairs, who received training at FBI and DEA. [78]   

“In 1987, Soviet and British authorities carried out the first joint Anglo – Soviet controlled delivery, resulting in the seizure of 3,5 tons of hashish in transit through the USSR to Great Britain.

Also in 1987, cooperation between Soviet customs and the RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] led to a controlled delivery via container from Murmansk, USSR, to Montreal. As a result, 5,115 kilograms of Afghan hashish were sized. The following year, in Montreal, a Soviet customs officer gave expert testimony regarding the case, and three persons were found guilty of trafficking and sentenced to imprisonment. “ [79]

There is evidence that at the end of 1980s drug trafficking through the Southern border increased. Not only hashish, but also highly refined drugs like heroin were imported from Afghanistan, partly in transit to the West, but more and more to satisfy the growing market of the relatively prosperous big industrial cities of the Soviet Union.

The growing international cooperation, which became possible because of the   policy of glasnost, brought increased pressure toward hardening the narcotics policy.

4.4. The narcotics legislation

Under the Decree No. 7226 – XI, issued on 29.06.1987 [80] by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, “the illegal acquisition without intention for sale” was brought under Art. 44 of “Administrative Violations Code of RF”:

“An additional provision was introduced under which the illegal acquisition or storage, without the intention of sale, of narcotic drugs “in small quantities” shall “result in an administrative penalty” in the form of a fine of up to 100 rubles or in the form of correctional labor for a period of from one to two months with the retention of 20 per cent of wages.”

The consuming of narcotics without medical certification became an administrative violation (Art.44 Administrative Violations Code of RF).

“The consumption of narcotic drugs without a physician’s prescription shall result in an administrative penalty in the form of a fine of up to 100 rubles, or in the form of correctional labor for a period of from one to two months with retention of 20 per cent of wages...” [81]

In its decree the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR introduced a new principle linking a drug-related penalty to the presence of “small” and “large” amounts, based on recommendations of the Standing Committee on Narcotics Drug Control, established under the Ministry of Public Health.

Thus, the acquisition and possession of small quantities of narcotics without intention for sale (in practice less than 5 gram [82] ), resulted only in an administrative penalty. But the same act, when committed for a second time within a year, however, resulted in criminal prosecution by Art. 224.3 of the Criminal Code.

“The same act, when committed for a second time within a year following the imposition of an administrative penalty for the same offence, and also for the acts provided for in ... the present Decree, is punishable by a loss of freedom for a period of up to two years, correctional labor for the same period, or a fine of up to 300 rubles.” [83]

To discourage drug-related activity an Article 224 includes a “handy” postscript, which provide for an exemption from any kind of prosecution for individuals who voluntary turn over drugs to the authorities, or who admit themselves to a medical institution for treatment.

But such a “prevention” proved to be quite ineffective. As the magazine for drug users “Living Here” ironically pointed out,

“If the cops are at your door, and you’ve got too much to flush, just open up, hand them the dope, and say ‘Happy New Year’”. [84]

Much less that a drug user might have the intention to apply for “voluntary treatment” in a Soviet narcological hospital, which looks and feels horrible and were patients are treated as prisoners.

The Decree also made clear provisions on compulsory treatment:

 “Persons who on the basis of sufficient data may be assumed to be consuming narcotic drugs for non-medical purposes are required to undergo an official medical examination in the established manner. In the event of a refusal by such persons to undergo this examination, they may be compulsory hospitalized for a period of not more than 10 days in order that they may be examined in the manner required…”

“Persons who are suffering from drug addiction and who evade treatment are subject to remand, on the orders of a district (municipal) people’s court, to closed compulsory treatment-and-rehabilitation centres for compulsory treatment for a period of from six months to two years...”

Thus, everyone who “on basis of sufficient data” (this could be a letter from the neighbors!) was suspected, were required to undergo compulsory medical research. Refusing or evading “the treatment” can result in two years of camps.

While 1987 Decree sounds more human than that of 1974 (drug possession in small quantities and personal use were partly decriminalized and became an administrative violation), in fact, following the “general line” of Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign, in 1985-1987 judges began to interpret laws defining narcotics use more strictly.

“In an interview with Viktor Reznikov, Mr. Babaian…went on to say that he thought it was necessary to apply ‘extreme measures’ to everybody who was involved in drugs, regardless of whether they were a user, an addict or a dealer.” [85]

This attitude, exacerbated by the anti-alcohol hysteria, gave rise to extreme sentences for drug users. In 1986, the deprivation of freedom was used in relation to 61,3% of those condemned, correctional works – 16,3%, the postponement of the performance of sentence – to 9,9%, conditional censure to the deprivation of freedom with the required attraction to labor – 8,3%. [86] According to A.A. Gabiani, 72,4% of cases in the middle-eighties were without intention for sale. [87] During 1986-1987, the prisons were overcrowded with young men caught with some drugs for own use, while the Soviet media portrayed them as serious criminals.

The policy has aroused numerous protests from lawyers, sociologists, narcologists and other specialists, not only abroad, but also in the Soviet Union.

“The existing system of drug control was severely criticized by the members of a scientific conference held in the town of Brest (Belorussia), in September 1988, under the motto ‘For Healthy Living’. In his speech, Sergei Lebedev [the Chairman of the Association of Independent Advocates in Leningrad] denounced the Soviet system of dealing with drug addiction by stating:

‘Within the system of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR, special divisions were created to fight drugs in 1963. Before 1985, their work had not been very successful. In 1985 these divisions were reinforced and the Central leadership paid quite a lot of attention to their work. But, until now, these groups have had rather poor material and technical supplies and would mostly act on orders coming from above. These orders demanded an increase in the number of cases brought to trial, the amount of those sentenced to criminal and administrative penalties, the quantity of drugs seized and the number of those directed to the LTP’”. [88]

During the last years of the LTPs and “narcozones” existence, the security precautions became less rigid. There were numerous reports of smuggled drugs, sometimes also sold by corrupt staff themselves. So the already low effectiveness of “treatment” became zero.

The law about cooperatives from 1987 allowed the establishment of small business enterprises. This was the beginning in 1990 and until recently a flourishing market for the private therapy of problematic drug users has emerged.

But, until 1990, there were no significant changes. The anti-alcohol campaign made virtually impossible the existence of these kinds of private enterprises.

It is characteristic that the anti-alcohol campaign was also an anti-drugs campaign. The ‘zero tolerance’ and cruel attitude of authorities towards alcoholics and drug users resulted in society sympathizing with the publicly condemned deviants. Despite these strong measures, drug use became fashionable among youth and in many ways symbolized the rejection of the system.

5. Liberal drug policy (the third period, 1990-1998)

“Yes, ‘n’ how many years can some people exist

Before they are allowed to be free

Yes, ‘n’ how many times can a man turn his head

Pretending he just doesn’t see?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.”


“I'm not against the police; I'm just afraid of them.”



5.1. Patterns of drug use

In 1990, the USSR reported 23,000 cases of registered drug users while estimating that there were 1,5 million people who used drugs including Afghan war veterans. [89] In 1996, Russian authorities claimed that drug use was accelerating at a 50% increase per year and there were over 2 million drug users in Russia. [90]

Of course these are only very roughly estimations based on official figures. Yet, in reality no one knows the actual number of drug users. Beginning from about 1993, drugs became a part of societal living in all regions of the USSR until the last Siberian village.

The rapid rise of drug use can be explained by the following factors, which are closely related with each other:

1. For many young men, the use of drugs, associated with rock culture, became a fashion.

As it was noted, Glasnost led to a relaxation of social taboo’s. During the Soviet period, one state TV program was extremely popular among young people. "The Melodies and the Rhythms of Foreign Stage " was transmitted only one time per year – on New-Years night, about at four o’clock. I still remember black-and-white photos of ABBA made from the TV screen, which were sold for about 1 ruble per picture. For the youth, bored to death from Lev Kobzon and Alla Pugacheva [91] , democracy brought “The Beatles”, “The Rolling Stones”, “Pink Floyd” and “Led Zeppelin”. The Russian rock groups like “Aquarium”, “Kino” and “DDT”, sharp critics of the dullness of the Soviet life, experienced a gold period and produced their best albums. In 1990, there were as many kiosks specializing in recordings on compact-cassettes, as kiosks with Pepsi-cola. The atmosphere was somewhat similar with those in Great Britain during the time of “Sex Pistols”, with the difference being that in Petersburg and Riga there were probably more punks and hippies than in London. In Russia, surely among the students, hippies and punks were seen almost as new prophets. The preachers of this ideology brought the use of drugs very nearly to the range of cult status. For others, drug use became fashionable and modern.

2. Social changes and the increasing availability of drugs.

Many people, not necessarily associated with the rock scene, were simply attracted by the increasing drug availability. The life and the opportunity to find a good job in big cities like Moscow and Petersburg became difficult, and entertainment was usually costly while drugs could be extremely inexpensive. The life in small provincial cities was very boring, and the youth had virtually nothing to do.

“Natalya Kozhevnikova, a 27-year-old from a small diamond-mining town [in Siberia], said many addicts there began using drugs at ages 12 or 13. ‘There is nothing to do – no movie theatres, no discos, nothing’”. [92]

The dissatisfied youths, with plenty of time to kill, sought an outlet for their energy, and this outlet could be found in drugs.

“Ask young men why they take drugs and the answers are unclear. Kostya, a 20-year-old in a black leather jacket stained with dirt, responds aggressively: ‘We are in a country where nobody cares about anything. Who cares if I say I am on drugs? It’s my decision and up to me to choose the way I want to live’.  Vadim, 21, has a similarly casual attitude: ‘Why do I take drugs? I don’t know. May be to get high, to visit another planet’”. [93]

The majority sought drugs just for fun or because of feeling of alienation, while others used them as an ultimate escape mechanism, in order to cope with personal problems and psychological stress.

There is a danger in artificiality separating specific social patterns of drug use in the 1990s. However, probably two patterns can be defined, on the basis of drugs of choice: “average”, with a prevalence of injecting drug use, and “yuppie”, were injecting is mostly seen “as the preserve of young, poor, for-gone junkies”.  

1. The “Average” drug use pattern

The next table indicates that the average drug user in Central Russia was an ethnic Russian (that is representative to the ethnic configuration of Yaroslavl, where research was done) [94] ; a male between 20 – 29 years of age, and generally well-educated. Close to 40% of the project clients were high school graduates, and about 40% approximately had had some kind of professional or high school training. But this fact doesn’t necessary prove the theory of elitist drug use at the big cities, because during Soviet times the level of education was very high and having some professional certificate or high school diploma was more the norm than an exception. A number of specialists (like engineers, for example) were traditionally poorly paid in Russia; and at the first half of nineties many of them were unemployed and in a situation far from wealthy, that encouraged escapist use.

TABLE 3: Demographics, Yaroslavl, 1996 - 1998 [95]

Percent of Sample





































Total (N)

(484) 100.0

(161) 100.0

(86) 100.0

(35) 100.0













Total (N)

(484) 100.0

(164) 100.0

(86) 100.0

(35) 100.0

Level of Education:


8th grade or less





less than high school





trade/technical training





high school graduate





professional training





some college





college graduate





Total (N)

(483) 100.0

(164) 100.0

(85) 100.0

(35) 100.0



Under 20










30-39 •










Total (N)

(445) 100.0

(153) 100.0

(83) 100.0

(33) 100.0

Age at First Injection:





































Total (N)

(440) 100.0

(152) 100.0

(83) 100.0

(33) 100.0













Total (N)

(483) 100.0

(164) 100.0

(85) 100.0

(35) 100.00

The next table reports drugs of choice among the participants interviewed in 1996 – 1998 in Yaroslavl, Russia:

TABLE 4: Drugs of Choice, Yaroslavl, 1996-1998 [96] (Percent of Respondents Reporting Drug of First Choice)


Initial Interview

First Follow-up

Second Follow-up

Third Follow-up











*Opiates (Chorny)















*Stimulants (Jeff, Vint)










Total (N)

(482) 100.0


(85) 100.0

(35) 100.0



1)     The drug of first choice “Vint”, “Jeff”, or “Screw” (also called “Mul’ka”, “Belyi” [white]) is a home-made amphetamine, usually prepared in an apartment by a “cook”, who extracts ephedrine from the common cough syrup, “Solutan”. “Solutan” is available by physician prescription only, but some pharmacies located away from the center of town are willing to sell it under the counter. “Solutan” can also be purchased on the street (costs approximately 40 rubles or $2.00 for a 50 ml bottle) and is usually sold by elderly women for whom it is widely prescribed. Because of Russia's economic crisis, retirees, the elderly, and people living on fixed governmental incomes frequently turn to "private enterprise" to help improve their situation.

How it works: The ingredients are gasoline, sodium hydroxide, sulphuric acid, iodine crystals, and red phosphorus. First, the alcohol in the cough syrup is burned off and the remainder mixed with sodium hydroxide to create a base, and mixed with gasoline, which acts as a solvent. Sulphuric acid is then added to precipitate, and red phosphorus and iodine crystals used as a catalyst. “Jeff” is typically injected in 10 to 15 ml doses although some users inject up to 40 ml. The result is a speed type high that can last 24 to 72 hours, depending on how many injections are taken. Prolonged use produces many side effects similar to those associated with amphetamines, such as delusional and paranoid thinking, malnutrition, and extreme fatigue.

2)     The second drug of choice, “Chorny” (which means “black”) is a home-prepared opiate made from poppy straw or other extracts from the poppy plant. Poppies grow wild in local areas, and they are also cultivated in the countryside. It is sold (generally by gypsies, see the diagram about the ethnic narco-crime) for about $2 per dose, or $5 for the ingredients to buy a larger batch.

How it works: Like “Jeff”, “Chorny” is a liquid drug. It is injected in smaller volumes, typically in 2-4 ml doses, but it is typically injected several times over several hours. “Chorny” ingredients are opium poppy straw, soda, industrial solvent, vinegar, acetic anhydride, and water. The poppy straw is sifted then wetted and heated over a flame for about 15 minutes. Two tablespoons of soda are added and thoroughly mixed. Industrial solvent is added then heated over a flame for about 15 minutes. Then the poppy straw is removed and discarded after squeezing out all the liquid. The solvent is burned off and the remaining liquid put into a bottle in which vinegar is added and the mixture shaken thoroughly. It can also be bought as a tar, then dissolved in water, and crushed pills such as dimedrol added. The excess water is boiled off. Acetic anhydride is usually added to “clean”, or “soften” the opium mixture. It is said that if this is not available, blood is substituted. This has lead some researchers to conclude that the rapid spread of HIV is especially high among “Chorny” users because infected blood makes the entire batch of drug infectious.

3)     The third injected drug of choice is "Ketamin" (also called "Kalipsol," and "Ketalar"), which is an anesthesia typically stolen from veterinary clinics, hospitals, and pharmacies and sold on the black market. The word on the street is that many pharmacists also sell bottles whose shelf life has expired under the counter and subsequently report them as having been destroyed. “Ketamin” is sold in either 2 or 10 ml vials for approximately 200 rubles ($10), and is typically injected intravenously or intramuscularly in 1-2 ml doses. The high is described as psychedelic and lasts from 30 to 50 minutes.

4)     Drugs in the "other" category include Oksibutiarat NA (sedative), PSP-5, wild mushrooms, Relanium and Ciklodol (benzodiazapines), which we have yet to study ethnographically. Heroin was also available in Yaroslavl although it was very expensive.

The prevalence of injecting drug use is remarkable. In Russia, the needle is dominant. This phenomenon can be explained by the following:

1.      Anyone who has ever drank vodka with Russians knows that they love to binge. The same is true for drugs. “We, Russians, don’t really like pills or smoking, no, we go for the real kick”, - so please no kidding, if you go for it, damn then you must go for it. Perhaps it is just in the character of the Russian people. They are lusty, warm, outgoing people, and subject to great emotional swings. Also, the psychology of machismo, “the real man work”, an historic attribute of vodka in Russia, clearly affected the Russian drug scene, were the majority of drug users are intravenous drug users.

2.      It is not only the conviction that injecting is “cool” and it gives maximal effect, but also because the syringe is traditionally trusted and a widely accepted appliance for use of medicines at home for many Russian families.

An important point is the frequency of injection. On average, respondents reported injecting approximately nine times during the last 30 days. In many cases injection drug use also appears to be very much a social activity, in which persons engage once or twice a week. Young people get together to prepare their drug solutions (“cooking”), which can take several hours, and then spend more time together getting high and partying.

Yet the self-made drugs like “vint” are more or less associated with the end of the social scale.

“’Vint’ causes terrible depression. It takes away all your energy and all your health. If injected, you can’t sleep at night, you don’t eat and don’t drink, because you don’t have to. In the morning your heart almost jumps out of your chest, and depression is about to begin. And this is considering that the dose was just right for you. If there was something wrong with the dose, then you might become mad immediately. Many already understood, that ‘vint’ is a very fast and guaranteed way to the grave or a psychiatric hospital, and switched to other drugs like heroin. How should I explain this popular...There is vodka, and there is bormotukha [cheap vine]. Well, ‘vint’ is bormotukha. For beginners, for kids who don’t have money.” [98]

2. The “Yuppie” drug use pattern

Among the “New Russians”, a new generation of young, wealthy self-made men who became rich in the rollercoaster of growing market economy, cocaine and ecstasy (MDMA) are the most popular drugs. Heroin and speed (amphetamine) usually snorted or smoked rather than injected are also used, with LSD bringing up the distant rear; perhaps its lack of popularity has something to do with the fact that reality in Russia is shifted enough without it.

Coke is the main drug of choice for the rich people due to the enormous attraction of its exclusively high price. In 1996, it tops Moscow price list at up to $200 per gram, followed by ecstasy, surprising for London and Amsterdam, retailing in Moscow for up to $50 per tab. Heroin was already in 1994-1996 relatively plentiful and sold anywhere from $100 to $400 per gram, depending on quality and relationship with a dealer. Marijuana retails for $20 for a matchbox (“korobka”), and between $100 – 120 for a glass. [99] In 1997, Mini-Dublin Group information indicated that cocaine consumption in Moscow has reached 10 kg per day. [100]

Chuck, a 25-year-old American, who earns $55,000 per year, employee at one of Moscow’s biggest US-Russia joint-venture retail companies, and whose Russian friends are wealthy bankers, lawyers, and sons of businessmen, tells his experience about life at Moscow:

“When I lived in London, I used to do ecstasy at raves and coke at parties, nothing serious. Here, hell, I do everything. Snorting heroin, amphetamines, speedballs, ecstasy, coke, of course, everything. The only thing I steer clear of is heavy-duty hallucinogens. I work like hell all week and party like hell all weekend”. [101]

For them, escaping the crazy corporate world for a night of nerve-damaging fun was not only a necessary evil but also mental joyride out of Moscow, which is worth the risk of taking drugs. Any sort of business activity in Russia was (and still is) a balancing act, a risk, a game without rules, each step you take is equally likely to result in victory or defeat. And anyone brave enough in attempting to make money in Russia runs into conflict with the law.

“You just have to be careful,” – said Jenny, an American in her late 20s who trades GKOs [state certificates] in Moscow. “You could get knocked down by a Zhiguli [Russian car, known as Lada] or eaten by some serial killer. This place is like really crazy. I reckon the people who can deal with reality without drugs are the weird ones.” [102]  

Before about 1998 (advent of the cheap, low quality heroin), the prevalence of the party character of the Russian drug scene at all levels helps explain why there was not a distinct “dope friend” or “drug addict” subculture, similar to those found in major cities in Western Europe and the United States, where a large number of injecting drug users devote much of their time everyday in a complex web of activities in support of their drug habit. [103]

Before about 1998 the diversification of the drugs of choice is indicative. The pattern of drug use can be characterized as mostly recreational and not as “only a way of life” to support an addiction habit.

5.2. The illegal proliferation of narcotics

The main flow of drugs for the domestic market came from the direction of Central Asia’s former Soviet Republics – Tadjikistan, Uzbekistan, Kirghizia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Highly refined drugs like heroin were generally imported from Afghanistan, partly in transit to the West, but more and more to satisfy the rapidly growing market of relatively prosperous big industrial cities in the Soviet Union. The major route lay through Tadjikistan, where it was impossible to completely seal off the border due to events occurring there. According to the information of the Federal Border Service, no more than 5 – 10% of the narcotics sent to (or through) Russia are seized at the Tadjik-Afghan border. [104]

TABLE 5: Narcotic substances confiscated, 1989 – 1998 [105]

 (in kg)


















182 943

From Tadjikistan, drugs mainly flowed to Kirghizia, where the town of Osh had in the recent years become a major transshipment point. Drugs were then brought to Russia generally by truck, together with various industrial and agricultural goods. The railroad and planes were also used intensively by couriers for relative small consignments of drugs.

True, Central Asia was not the only supplier. According to Arkadii Granovskii, Deputy Chief of the St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region Internal Affairs Main Administration Narcotics Directorate, the stable economic situation in the region attracted drugs from all over the world. [106]

On the whole, opium coming from the direction of Asia increased to 13,451 times between 1992 and 1996 (official seizures). [107]

FIGURE 3: Basic supplying and consuming regions of narcotic substances [108]

FIGURE 4: East European Drug route [109]

“Whereas in 1992, 1,549 nationals of the former Soviet Republics were detained for drug-related crimes, in 1996 already 3,188 had been detained.

As for foreigners (not counting CIS citizens), 19 people were detained in 1992, while in 1996 the corresponding number was 2,882. Incidentally, this figure (a 151,6-fold increase) graphically testifies to the considerable expansion of the Russian drug market!“ [110]

Before 1995, there was hardly evidence about the Russian drug maffia actively participating in the international drug scene. While there were (and still is, but probably to lesser degree) several hundreds “free fly-in pushers” under protection of domestic criminal groups. Those couriers were mostly poor black students from African countries like Nigeria, Zaire and Somalia, delivering relatively small amounts from West Europe and Latin America, say, 1 kilogram in a stomach full with condoms filled with cocaine or heroin.

“Andrey Kornilov, the deputy director of the Illegal Narcotics Directorate of the Moscow police, said that the number of drug arrests involving Africans has “doubled or tripled” in the last year [1995], and added that airport arrests of “swallowers” or “mules”, unheard of a year ago, are now twice-weekly occurrence.” [111]

Miklukho- Maklaia street in Moscow, where the Institute of the Friendship of Peoples and the dormitories for African students are situated, became in 1996-1998 one of the biggest dealing markets in the city. However, given its reputation of extremely costly cocaine and heroin, it regarded to be expensive. Africans said they enjoy the protection from the Solntsevo group, one of the Russia’s largest and the one formerly commanded by Viacheslav Ivan’kov, known as Yaponchik, who was arrested in the United States in 1995.

For someone who does not have money there was an alternative. For example, one might go to Lubianka, another drug market in the heart of Moscow, near the “Detskii Mir” children’s department store and, ironically enough, near of the FSB (Federal Security Service, formerly KGB) building. Here babushka’s, typical Russian old grannies, just for few dollars sold components needed for preparing “vint”. Mixed with the crowd of street peddlers around the children store “Detskii Mir”, they hold up self-made socks and blouses, but they had also something more than that inside their cheap Chinese bags. To avoid confrontation with police, they generally worked by group, so one woman would sell one component, another, a second one, and so forth, down to the syringe.

For some a means of survival, for others an enormous profit, the drug trade attracted both babushka’s and domestic organized crime groups. Many of the small criminal gangs located in Central Asia and Transcaucasus area formed links with Russian distributors in key Russian cities.

It is clear that the illicit cultivation of the opium poppy increased and in all probability the privatization of chemical laboratories led to the use of such facilities for narcotics fabrication. [112] In 1992, authorities discovered over 47 laboratories that produced fentanol, a barbiturate, in and around Moscow. Equipment had been stolen from government facilities to set up small-scale amphetamine operations for local markets. [113] In 1993, the number of uncovered illegal laboratories rose to 215. [114]

However, most information about the illicit manufacture and trafficking of psychotropic substances in the first half of nineties “is anecdotal”. [115]

5.3. The narcotics legislation and law enforcement

After the demise of the Soviet Union, Russia was faced with the formidable task of re-creating its state institutions. As it was noticed above, the negative impact of the anti-alcohol campaign and the followed relaxation and liberalization of the society influenced the formation of the drug policy.

On 25 October 1990 [116] , the USSR Committee for Constitutional Supervision ruled that an order for the obligatory treatment of drug addicts on the sole basis that a person refuses to undergo a treatment was based on a duty as citizens to take care of their own health. According to the Committee, neither the Constitution nor international human rights’ acts provide for such a duty. The right to health care of the Brezhnev Constitution is not only a social right, but also a freedom. It restricts the state in regulating this sphere and the right may be restricted by the state in order if it is necessary to protect the health of other persons; but not to protect only the health of the holder of the right. Therefore, it declared the corresponding provision in the 1969 USSR Foundations of Health Legislation on forced treatment to be not in conformity with the Constitution. Therefore, a refusal to undergo treatment for alcoholism or drug addiction cannot be conceived as a violation of the law entailing legal liability, unless it is connected with a systematic violation of public order or the violation of the rights of other persons. For the same reason, the use of narcotics as such may not be considered an administrative violation of the law or a crime. Certain restrictions, which are provided by the law, to the rights of persons in treatment facilities, such as the inspection of their correspondence, do not comply with the Constitution. The legal prohibition to use narcotic drugs does not comply with the right to liberty (see Article 22 Constitution). Therefore, nobody may be taken to account for refusing to undergo forced treatment for alcoholism or drug abuse. The use of drugs is free and may not be considered as a crime.

The Russian Federation abolished criminal punishment of the consumption of narcotics on 5 December 1991. [117] The law of 2 July 1992 “On psychiatric aid...” ruled out the compulsory treatment of problematic drug users and alcoholics. Transitory provisions to the law of 21 July 1993 “On Institutions and Organizations executing the criminal punishment of the deprivation of freedom” provided that all labor correction centers had to be abolished by 30 July 1994 [118] and the special rehabilitation centers returned to the Ministry of Health. It should be noted that the main problem with “narcozones” was not considered to be the “deprivation of freedom” of drug users, but because the property relations were not clear.

“A main problem is that property relations are not clear and that not the state but the staff of the camps become the owners of the property and the results of the prisoners’ labor, thus allowing for slave labor in the interests of private business.” [119]

What has remained punishable are the illegal manufacturing, acquisition or keeping of narcotic substances in great amounts without the purpose of trafficking or sale and also the same and other actions with that purpose independently of the amount (Art. 224 of 1960 Criminal Code; corresponding Art. 228 of 1996 Criminal Code).

But, according to Dr. Ger P. Van den Berg from Leiden University, Faculty of East-European Law, “when the provisions on drug use disappeared from the Criminal Code, the idea was a much broader legalization, even including trade in drugs.” [120]

Boris Kalachev, expert from the Foreign Military Study Office, Fort Leavenworth, USA, wrote:

“This trend [towards legalization] was further reinforced by the draft version of the New Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. This state document bans criminal prosecution of persons who are detained for making, acquiring, transporting or storing narcotic substances for non-profit purposes. If this draft version of the Russian Criminal Code is approved by the upper house of our legislative body and by the President of the Russian Federation, then in Russia in 1996 the use of any type of narcotic in any amount could become fully legal, provided that use is ‘for oneself’.” [121]

It is not clear what Kalachev means under “non-profit” making and acquiring. Probably, Parliament discussed the possibility of the legalization of small-scale cultivation for ones own use, similar to the policy toward cannabis in Holland.

Certainly, such a nightmarish scenario could not be tolerated by American politicians, who push domestic policies abroad including the idea that it is perfectly legal if one gets a life sentence for cultivation of the few cannabis plants. It is not difficult to imagine what kind of pressure the members of Parliament experienced. While it was the “Godfather offer which couldn’t be rejected”, Parliament resisted as long as possible by simply delaying acceptance of suppressive amendments. Kalachev said:

“Furthermore, Parliament is taking its time in passing laws which would pertain to the social rehabilitation of drug addicts [what, implementing narcozones again?], the monitoring of legal drug sales or the battle against illegal drug trafficking.” [122]

But why was drug policy, which came from the most economically developed country of the world, so unattractive for Parliament? One possible answer to this is that a repressive drug policy under the Russian circumstances had more disadvantages than benefits.

“Due to the extent of economic under and retro-development, if drugs are repressed massively, drug use and drug trade will assist in the creation of a large and difficult to control class of organized criminals who will exert serious power both financially and politically. This means that it is in the interest of the new democracies to at least tolerate individual drug use and allow the development of a non monopolized system of small scale and competitive distributors.” [123]

Nevertheless, starting from 1992, the Russian government accelerated its anti-drug international cooperation. [124] During same year, the United States government opened narcotic control dialogue with the new Russian regime. Initial efforts have focused on identifying possible areas of assistance and the full implementation of UN drug conventions. In 1992, DEA organized first basic training seminars in Moscow and Warsaw. In 1993, the Russian government designed a two-year $ 65 mln anti-drug campaign [in times of economic difficulties] that began in 1994 and an Interministerial Committee on Controlling Drug Abuse and Illegal Drug Dealing was established. [125] In July 1994, the US FBI director visited Russia. The next year the government of Russia approved a new three-year anti-drug program. In 1995, the United States and Russia negotiated and signed a Mutual legal assistance agreement. The same year, the United States government launched a major assistance program to train Russian law enforcement and procuracy personnel, with an emphasis on international organized crime, narcotics trafficking, and financial crimes, including money laundering. With FREEDOM Support Act funds, over 40 law enforcement courses were offered. [126] In 1994, it was noted that the US government contributed $500,000 to the NIS [Newly Independent States], including Russia, through the UNDCP [United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention], as well as bilaterally, for enforcement training. [127] In 1992, the number of drug enforcement officers was increased from 800 to over 1,500. [128] In 1993, this number rose to over 3,000. [129] In 1994-1997, more than 3,300 officials were trained in Russia, the US, and the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in Budapest. [130] The regional drug law enforcement school in Belgorod enrolled 150 students in 1993. [131] In 1994, the Ministry of Internal Affairs had 3,500 agents working exclusively on narcotics issues. However, the MVD could not recruit an additional 1,000 agents planned for 1994. The poor response was attributed to the low salary offered to beginning agents. [132] In 1995, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) increased the number of full-time drug control officials from 3,500 to 4,000, the State Customs Committee created an additional 50 field offices and increased the number of drug control officials by 350, and the Federal Border Service created a special anti-drug force. [133]  

What does the increased number of trained law enforcement officers specialized in narcotics mean? It means that every officer has to do their job, i.e. catch someone. The tradition of centrally planned state is still very strong in Russia. In other words, the increase in the number of narcotics officers under the Russian circumstances must result in numbers of arrests (quantity, not quality principle). Furthermore, it is considerably simpler to catch a young boy with 1g of heroin (an especially large amount = day dose) in the streets of Petersburg and to report him as a dangerous criminal, than to be actually occupied with the drug gangs. Because, first of all, gangs have their patrons in the highest echelons of authority, second, infiltration is dangerous for the police officer, and third, it is logic that the big shipments or dealings are not an everyday occurrence. The reported growth of “drug-related crimes” (see table 6) is, in light of this, of dubious value.

TABLE 6: Narcotics – related crimes, 1988-1998 [134]























For sure the existence today of a narcotics apparatus in Russia would not be possible without US support. US government sources admit to influencing Russian drug policy. The material on law enforcement specifically is based almost solely one source – “International Narcotics Control Strategy Reports”, annually produced by Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C. The reader will understand on the basis of this data, how USA spread its domestic policy with respect to narcotics abroad to Russia. 

“The United States government continued to encourage Russia to expand its drug control activities and to establish legislative and institutional anti-drug capabilities, particularly those required under the 1988 UN Convention.” [135] “However, effective implementation of the 1988 UN Convention will require, inter alia, stricter controls on trafficking and production, more effective law enforcement, and imposition of criminal penalties for narcotics possession.” [136] The last point is very important. On 5 December 1991, the Russian Parliament made it legal for all citizens of the Russian Federation, foreigners and non-citizens to be under the influence of drugs. The possession of small amounts was decriminalized. This was apparently not to the liking of the US government.

It was noted in the 1993 Narcotics Report that there is a “growing sentiment within the Ministry of Interior (MVD) that recent legislation allowing for possession of drugs for personal use must be repealed” [137] . The pressure from the “strong ministries” like MVD was always an important factor in Russia, so it is not surprising that “In 1994, the President’s office started reviewing legislation, drafted by the Ministry of Interior (MVD), to repeal current law permitting the possession of drugs for personal use.” [138]

There are, thus, important indications that the political, material and educational assistance from the West contributed to the hardening of the drug policy.

Summary of the drug policy

In the first half of 1990s the consumption of narcotics was a widely known phenomenon and had mostly a party or recreational character. Democratic changes in society resulted in a relative liberalization of the policy of narcotics. But increased international collaboration placed the continuation of the liberal policy in doubt.

6.  Tough approach (the fourth period, 1998-2000)

"Contrariwise," continued Tweedledee, "If it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic."


“He who allows oppression shares the crime.”

ERASMUS DARWIN, The Botanical Garden, 1789


6.1. Patterns of drug use

Nowadays the drug market near of the KGB, as well as the Institute of Friendship of Peoples, has lost most of popularity. Just during the last two years, the “diversification of the drugs market”, characteristic of the end of 1980s and the first half of 1990s has almost ended. Heroin is easy to buy everywhere and it is cheap.

“’Heroin is easy to get,’ Katya says. ‘It’s a lot easier than marijuana now’. Igor, a 23-year-old addict in St.Petersburg, began using drugs when he was a teenager, but he switched to heroin in 1998 because it was the easiest drug to buy. ‘It’s a strange situation’, he says. ‘There’s so much of it. Within a kilometer of here, there are 20 places you can get heroin. You can’t buy anything else these days’.” [139]

Opium was once the drug of choice. But unlike heroin, opium must be carefully cooked and mixed. So when heroin suddenly appeared some two years ago, it becomes the drug of choice for vast majority of drug users.

FIGURE 4: Drugs of choice, 1997-1999, Petersburg, street sample [140]

What we can see on this graph is a catastrophe. More and more, young men are switching very fast from a relatively safe hash to the highly addictive and low quality heroin. Why?

One possible reason is the psychology of machismo; real man work, known from vodka. Therefore, heroin is seen as a most exciting and cool drug, so both drug users (“stronger smash does not exist”) and drug dealers (the low weight and of course the addiction factor) clearly prefer this way. The market mechanism works as always: “this is what you want, this is what you get”. The result is that “you can’t get anything else this days”.

Another reason might be that the price levels influenced the use of heroin. In 1997-1998, one gram of heroin in Moscow was sold for about 150-300 US$. In April 2000, the price of one gram of heroin in St. Petersburg varied between 800 rubles and 1,000 rubles ($28 to $35). [141] In July 2000, the street price in Moscow for 1 gram of heroin is reported to be as low as only $9. [142]

Yet the quality of the heroin sold has changed for the worse. Of course it has always been a risk you might buy some Korean carpet cleaner, but now this possibility has just become greater. According to Dr. J.P. Grund from the Open Society Institute:

“The criminalization of use and possession of most drugs has profound effects on their availability in terms of price, quality and accessibility. … Price, quantity and quality clearly are strongly interrelated. It seems, however, that quality, and to a lesser degree quantity are more influenced by repression / criminalization then price.” [143]

The percentage of heroin purity has significantly dropped, and this is in a most cases seen as a major cause of overdose, because it makes it difficult for drug users to control the dose. “Underdose” or injecting not a sufficient amount has the consequence of increasing the frequency of injection. In most cases it is not anymore “twice-a-weekly party”, but injecting every single day which leads to heavy addiction. In addition, the stuff mixed with heroin is so toxic, that it destroys the organism very fast. In all probability, 1 gram of heroin for ten bucks can hardly be called “heroin”, it is indeed “Korean carpet cleaner”.

TABLE 7: Statistics on overdoses, 1990 – 1998, Petersburg [144]


 Total number of diseases
























































5 391








5 095








5 169




1 106




 Thus, if in 1990 the number of drug users who overdosed composed 1,5% of the total number of patients, i.e., 80 people, in 1996 - 11%, i.e., 625 persons, then in 1998 already 21%, i.e. in comparison with 1990 it grew 14 times. These alarming statistics resemble the situation of fatal surrogate poisoning during Gorbachev’s campaign.

In some cities, small packages of heroin (checks, Russian slang for the cash-register tapes that they resemble) are sold almost openly in food markets and newspaper kiosks. In others, such as St. Petersburg, the dealers sell drugs in secure apartments, using cellphones and pagers to communicate with customers and warn of police raids.

With the advent of heroin, “drug dens” with all the rituals of “cooking” have lost their “social importance” (coming together in one place and getting high and partying), and as a result drug use has lost much of its “social” or “recreational” character. Now they just buy a dose and a bottle of mineral water to dissolve it in. Syringes are sold on every corner. There is no need for a drug user to go to a “den”. Usually they look for secluded places after dark, such as kindergarten playgrounds, public gardens or stairwells in houses without an entryphone or a combination lock.

The new law from April 1998 “About Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances” has made the drug user a criminal offender. The draconian measures of the new law resulted in further alienation of drug users from civil society. According to Dr. J.P. Grund:

“Although the drug subculture to many people seems a closed parallel world, mainstream cultural norms, policies and responses to (illicit) drug use plainly have important consequences on the everyday practice of drug users. These norms actually define and structure the features and social position of the drug subculture to a great extent…the more any deviant group (i.e. deviant from the dominant cultural norms and values) is repressed and ostracized, the more it will profile itself as a deviant group and the more the deviant behavior, norms and values will get emphasized and reinforced in that group. “ [145]

Thus, that group which was grown on the ideology of resistance based on rock culture, now began to feel and believe that there is for real “no future” for them and that they are loosing the game with the society. Moreover was it worse that this feeling, coupled with a difficult economic situation, has resulted in pessimism among drug users and their acceptance of the idea of their own addiction.

An old proverb says: “if you treat a person as he is, he will remain as he is; if you treat him for what he could be, he will become what he could be.”

The dominance of heroin has changed the pattern of drug use losing most of its party or recreational character and in the majority of cases has evolved to a heavy addiction pattern.

6.2. The illegal proliferation of narcotics and law enforcement

It is safe to say that Russia has now developed into a full-fledged drug consumer society – over 90% of all contraband narcotics are intended for sale in Russia, while only 10% are in transit. [146]

In the first nine months of 1999 (compared to a similar period in 1998), the MVD seized 279,1 kilograms of heroin, up 120%; 12,7 kilograms of cocaine, up 35,2%; and 21,477 kilograms of marijuana, up 29,7%. [147] According to 1999 figures from the “City Without Drugs” Fund, Yekaterinburg, some 40 kilograms of heroin are sold every day in Yekaterinburg alone, which has a population of 1,5 million. [148]

It is known that in 1998 a kilogram of heroin costs 9,000 dollars in Afghanistan, $25,000 in Tadjikistan, and about $150,000 in Moscow. Only in Moscow, about 20,000 people are involved in active narcotics trafficking. [149]

Now heroin is not only imported, but also domestically produced, mainly in Tadjikistan, Azerbajdzhan, Kazakhstan and Chechnya. Between 1994 – 1998 more than 300 laboratories were uncovered, [150] and there are estimations that today the real number of underground heroin factories at the territory of the former Soviet Union is at least 50 times higher. Some of these laboratories who employ professional chemists are located in educational centers, especially in Moscow.

As a result, the prices have sharply declined (from approximately $150 for one gram of heroin in 1997 to just about $10 in 2000; however, quality has been reduced), and the fast forming Maffia structure effectively took control over the entire drug market. The Interior Ministry estimated the annual value of the illegal drug trade at around seven billion dollars in 1997, six hundred times greater than in 1991. [151]

More and more, the drug trade has shifted from individual free-lance dealers to organized crime.

For understandable reasons it is not really a “Russian maffia” in the ethnic sense of the word. Its multi-faceted structure includes the organization of production, reprocessing, transportation and distribution of narcotics on a national scale. So various criminal groups active at the territories of the former Soviet Union – Russians, Tadjiks, Azeris, Georgians etc. have been forced to cooperate with each other.

There are also several foreign groups engaged in drug trafficking. The biggest among them are the Afghans, Chinese and Vietnamese. The Afghan group specializes in the delivery from Afghanistan primarily of heroin and further transit through Russia to Western Europe and USA. The Chinese are well-known distributors of synthetic drugs. Between 1996 – 1998 there has been a  ten-fold increase in the amount of ephedrine illegally brought into Russia from China, especially in the Far East for its further shipment to other regions. [152] Vietnamese are involved in a bit of everything.

The “Moscow narco-group” is also engaged on international scene, connected with Italian, Romanian, Colombian, Cuban and other trafficking networks.

“According to General Luis Ernesto Gilibert, the head of the Colombian police, Colombian drug dealers ‘acted in concert with the Russian maffia and had contacts with crime organizations in the United States’.

Allegations against the Russian maffia are nothing new in Colombia. The local mass media regularly report that Colombian insurgents are using Russian weapons and tanks and that they are being trained by our military instructors previously employed by Russian special services. None of the reports was ever confirmed. “ [153]

In an exclusive interview with News Alert! Web Magazine in 1998, Russian ambassador to Columbia, Ednan Agaev, “expanded on his fears and said he believed there are ‘close links between Colombian and Russian criminal structures’”. [154]

Russian organized crime is still not a full-fledged drug cartel of the Medelin type that actively participates not only in the economy, but in politics as well; this, however, does not mean that there is no risk of this in the future. Laundered drug money is invested everywhere, from the fuel and telecommunications sectors to lobbying certain laws and political parties, but also to charity activities such as maintaining clinics, support schools, building sport facilities, sponsoring theaters and concerts etc. The drug dealers, by doing so try to buy a good name and influence society.

“In its structure, the national narcotics mafia consists of three parts, which represents the classic mafia pyramid. The first part, which serves as its base, comprises retail traders, who in Moscow alone include several thousand people. The second part are medium-size wholesalers and carriers who employ “security units” to protect the goods in transit and the local traders. The third part is the upper echelon, whose members have no direct dealings with narcotics. Their task is to plan operations and launder the money that is received.” [155]

The drug dealing syndicates are extremely secretive and cautious. Certainly the police know the dealers addresses, but what’s the use? They do not keep heroin at home. They find a junkie and give him five doses: sell four and keep one. Police can catch small fish, but they will almost never come close to a big one. There is no evidence, no proof to arrest them. 

Since the police very seldom can catch a drug dealer, in most cases not the criminal element but individual drug users between 20-25 years old young men were punished. Thousands of people were convicted and imprisoned. Once inside the Soviet penal system, these drug users were influenced by real criminals and many of them later became involved in criminal activity.

 Of course, the factor of corruption cannot be excluded. The authorities responsible for drug policy are open to bribery, just like any leadership in this country. So we got a paradoxical situation here: on the one hand, we have a real (?) commitment to combat drugs officially being proclaimed, and on the other, it takes ten minutes to buy drugs in Moscow or St. Petersburg. The police do not seem particularly interested in drugs being sold almost openly at every market and injected on every corner, for reasons not difficult to guess: every dealer must pay the enforcement officers. In turn, the police must bribe their superiors as well. Where does this money go afterwards?

“Although direct linkage between political contributions, drugs and government officials is murky, there are credible reports that criminal groups spend 30 to 50 percent of their gross profits on bribes to government officials, especially customs and police officers.” [156]

I do believe that there are certain legal, politically and economically powerful groups that sustain the draconian measures on drug policy for their own interest. For corrupt banks, for example, “The Drug War” means millions of narcodollars. Some experts estimate that 25% of Moscow’s commercial banks are controlled by organized crime. [157]

Perhaps organized crime has influenced the policy makers to maintain the strong measures against drug use. For some corrupted politicians, the strict narcotics policy is in any case in their own interest.


6.3. The narcotics legislation

When the 1996 Criminal Code was adopted, liability for drug-related crimes became stricter. After a long discussion in State Duma, the finally promulgated law of 8 January 1998 “On Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances” [158] ended the “liberal period” and set up a more repressive policy toward drug use. It forbids the purchase and possession of drugs without the intent to distribute, introduced forced medical testing of problematic drug users, allowed for the forced treatment of drug users upon the decision of a court, and forbid the propagation of any advantages of the use of narcotics. The law gives the police special powers in operating and investigating. However, the use of narcotics itself is still exempted from criminal punishment.

According to Article 228 of the 1996 Criminal Code,

“1. The illegal acquisition or storage of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances without intention to sell in large amounts is punishable by a loss of freedom for a period up to three years.

2. The illegal acquisition or storage of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances for the purpose for sell, and also production, processing, transport or dispatch is punishable by a loss of freedom for a period of three and up to seven years, with or without confiscation of property.

3.   Acts, provided by ch.2 of the present article, committed: 

a)      on the basis of a prior conspiracy by a group of persons;

b)       repeatedly;

c)      when they involve narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances in especially large amounts,

    are punishable by the deprivation of freedom for the period from five to ten years with or without the confiscation of property.

 4.  Acts provided by Ch.2 or Ch.3 of present article, committed by the organized group or when they involve narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances in an especially large amount,

 — are punishable by deprivation of freedom for the period from seven to fifteen years   with the confiscation of property.”   

 The law does not provide the criteria to specify whether an amount of narcotic drugs is not large, large, or especially large. These notions are defined in a List issued by the Standing Committee on Narcotic Control of the Ministry of Health, established in 1991. Therefore, the courts have to decide this in a concrete case, taking into account the “recommendations” of the Standing Committee.

TABLE 8. Comparison between Standing Committee Lists (selected narcotic substances) [159]


List of 1991

List of 1998

Not large


Especially large

Not large


Especially large

Dried marihuana

5 g

500 g

Not defined

0,1 g

0,1–500 g

500 g


1 g

100 g


0,1 g

0,1-100 g

100 g


0,5 g

50 g


0,1 g

0,1-10 g

10 g


0,02 g

1 g


0,01 g

0,01-1 g

1 g


0,015 g

1 g


Not defined

Less than 0,005g

0,005 g


0,05 g

3 g


0,02 g

0,02-3,0 g

3,0 g









Under the new rules of the Standing Committee of 17 December 1996, amended in 1997 and 1998, the amounts of “not large” and “large” were significantly reduced. In fact everything becomes “large”. The reduction of the allowed amounts is said to be related to the better quality of drugs (this is of course isn’t true). 

During the liberal period, having drugs in not large amounts was an administrative violation, but under the 1997 rules possession of any amount becomes a violation. While the consumption of drugs as such is still not punishable, keeping any amount of them is. Moreover, forced treatment in fact serves as a draconian form of extra-legal punishment.

Before the new law, drug users knew for sure that, for example, 1 gram or less can be possessed without the risk of criminal prosecution (in fact, police closed their eyes for amounts less than 5 grams). [160] Today nobody knows what can be counted as a “dose”, because the minimal amount is not defined. If some might consider 0,005 gram of heroin as a dose (but it is not, because a heroin addict needs approximately 1g per day) and at the same time as “especially large” amount (what is usually means the intention to sell) - it is nonsense. In all probability such a miniscule amount as 0,005 gram of heroin someone could only see in a microscope.

Therefore all drug users become potential criminals and face the risk of being sentenced for a maximum of 15 years. Absurd? No, it is reality. In fact, the courts apply the amounts established by the Standing Committee. Examples:

Ÿ         In 1998, citizen Pavliuk was sentenced – with the consent of the Supreme Court – for having an amount of 0,06 grams of heroin for his own use. [161]

Ÿ         Skvortsov Andrei, born in 1971, on 27 May 1998 was sentenced under Art. 228.4 Criminal Code RF, by Sormov Regional Court, the city of Nizhnii Novgorod, to 11 years 4 months of imprisonment with confiscation of property, for the illegal acquisition, transport and keeping without intention to sell (for own use) an amount of 4,5 grams of heroin.

Ÿ         Golubichnii Vladimir, 24 years old, in August 1997 was sentenced to 6 months of imprisonment for having an amount of 1 gram of hashish, that is “especially large”. On 1 February 1998, just a few days before his release, he died in a prison hospital under unclear circumstances.

Ÿ         Kleschevskii Dmitrii, born in 1972, was sentenced under Art. 228.4 by 7 years for an amount of 0,15 grams of heroin. [162]

According to Lev Levinson, Secretary of the RF President Political Consulting Council Chamber of Human Rights, 92% of the crimes under Article 228 are not related with the intention of trafficking or sale. About 85% of those sentenced were youths under 25 years old. [163]

A very important point is the large powers given to police authorities. Minister of Internal Affairs Stepashin, appointed by President El’tsin in May 1998, has made counternarcotics law enforcement one of MVD’s highest priorities. [164] This emphasis might result in increasing the number of arrests, as happened during Gorbachev anti-alcohol campaign. From March 1999 to April 1999, the St. Petersburg non-governmental organization “Vozvrashchenie” conducted street interviews (rapid questionnaire) among 200 drug users for the purpose of studying the change in attitude of law-enforcement bodies toward drug users after the law on Drugs and Psychotropic Substances at April 1998 came into effect. [165]

“Do you know about coming into effect of this Law?

Yes – 133, No – 48

How many times were you detained in the streets on suspicion in drug use after coming into effect of this law?

Yes – 1141 times, No-36 18%

How many times were you withdrawn at a police detachment?

Yes- 952 times, No-22 17%

Have the illegitimate actions from police body side taken place to you?

Yes – 196, No – 45”

It should be remembered that these measures are not extraordinary in international practice. Just a few examples from the United States:

 Will Foster, age 40, rheumatoid arthritis patient, who found that marijuana could control his pain, was sentenced to 93 years (later reduced to 20 years) for cultivation of some marijuana plants for own use. Calvin Treiber, age 38, a Rastafarian by religion, is serving 29 years for an alleged marijuana conspiracy. His wife, Jodie Israel, age 34, was charged with possession of less than two ounces of marijuana and is now serving 11 years. [166]

Basically, Russian law now follows the American model.

The scientists on drug use disagree with many of the law provisions. In particular, the section requiring problematic drug users to be treated only in state hospitals is pointless as their effectiveness is zero. The law does not permit statutory funds to be spent through private agencies or non-governmental organizations (NGO), which in some Russian health authorities has led to difficulties around the survival of voluntary and NGO rehabilitation services. The health authorities are not empowered to contract beds or places from non-statutory service providers.

On 20 June 2000, a controversial amendment to the law on mass media was adopted. It states that all media outlets, including the Internet, can not spread information about “methods of producing, preparing and using” drugs or about places where drugs are sold. Information about the medical advantages of illegal drugs via mass media is also prohibited.

The official reason of the ban is to fight against the “drug lobby”. For example, the Radical Party and several other associations are openly carrying out a wide-scale promotional campaign for legalization of drugs, that includes the publication of books, leaflets, newspapers with articles regarding their philosophy and methods of taking drugs. The popular “Ptuch” and “OM” magazines have published articles about the advantages of ecstasy use. Also, some rock music stars take part in promoting drugs, like Bogdan Titomir, who proclaimed himself openly as an ecstasy user and sang on TV “Mama, I am crazy about ecstasy”.

According to the estimates, the total print amount of drug literature has exceeded five million copies in the past five years. [167]

“An official at the St. Petersburg “Vozvrashchenie” (Return) Foundation, the first group to have launched a free needle exchange in Russia, said the amendment would be a step back in the fight against the country’s growing drug problem. ...’If there is no in-depth information about drugs in the media, the nation will be ignorant and, therefore, more vulnerable to drug abuse’”. [168]

The use of the mass media and freely available information about the possible health risk consequences of drug use are essential for harm reduction and AIDS prevention programs. For example, a couple of years ago the Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction (Trimbos-Institute) issued a folder in the Russian language called “Self-defense”, designed to explain to drug users such things as the danger of needle-sharing, what to do in case of an overdose, how to use drugs safely, and how to protect yourself from AIDS and related diseases. The RF Ministry of Health banned the folder. I have witnessed the negative reaction of several Russian high-ranking specialists on narcology who were visiting Trimbos Institute in Utrecht in the Spring of 1999. They commented that, “You can not call it prevention. It’s a guide for beginning drug user.” 

“Nikolai Nedzelsky, president of the AIDS organization ‘Imena’, claims the health authorities have the wrong approach to drug use. ‘The official structures – Ministry of the Interior, narcological services – try to prohibit the use of drugs. And non-using propaganda is much, much weaker than the promotion of drugs. A 15-year-old, when he hears on the TV ‘don’t use drugs, it’s bad for you’ and when he hears his friend saying that he tried it and it’s such bliss – definitely his friend’s words will impress him more. It’s necessary to change state policy as a whole, not simply frighten people as they love to do in this country, but to give true information about what drugs are, how to protect yourself if you are using drugs...to tell the truth.’” [169]

Thus, why has a change occurred in the substance use policy – from the relatively liberal in 1990 to the conservative period beginning in 1996?

While the new law was adopted after consultations with more than 1,000 specialists and the examination of comparable laws in 118 countries [170] , it seems that an American strict policy model was the one that served as a cornerstone. This can be explained by the following:

1.      The influence from abroad. 

(a)   The institutional changes (in many ways the adaptation of the Western models under required supervision) were important criteria for the loans Russia accepted from the International Monetary Fund for its reorganization of the economy.

(b)   The establishing of a drug policy institution and creating services is an expensive task. The political, material and educational assistance from the West is crucial. The price to pay is accepting the ideas.

“The American Drug Enforcement Organization (DEA) has its agents connected to most American Embassies in Europe, and is, via its diplomatic status, a formidable pressure group sitting very close to each national government. In Eastern European countries, DEA agents are frequently seen as genuine and objective experts in the field. Indeed, when the new Eastern European countries look for assistance in the field of drug control, one of their few options is to go to the specialized bureaucracies in Western Europe and North America.” [171]

(c)   The new policy came from the United States, the most economically developed and powerful country in the world, and so it was attractive.

(d)   Another important point behind the change of the policy is an obligation to fulfill UN Conventions and therefore fear of international blackmail.

2. The experience and traditions.

The policy was also easy to adopt because Russia has a lot of experience with suppressive policies. The liberal theory and “the organic growth” of the institutions represented a dramatic break with historical tradition (active role of the state and controlled behaviors), so it met the resistance from both the orthodox society and the bureaucracy.

3. Other considerations.

(e)   The totally unexpected AIDS epidemic had put the liberal attitude in doubt. Prohibition is “the first, the best” solution.

(f)     The fear that the drug maffia can take control over society.

Summary of the drug policy

Starting from about 1998, the pendulum of ambivalence swung back once again. Like in the Gorbachev period, but more severely, the strong state reasserted itself in the face of society. This time, not alcohol, but drug users were the victims. Interestingly, with the new dominance of heroin and addictive user-patterns, the excessive use culture, known from vodka, also seemed to reassert itself.


CONCLUSION: Clock & Clockmaker

“- Define violence.

-         What?

-         Violence, define it. You making a movie about it, shouldn’t you know what it is?”

WIM WENDERS, “End of violence”

“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”

ISAAC ASIMOV, Foundation


The purpose of this thesis is to describe and explain the process of drug policy formation in the former Soviet Union. I will summarize it in the form of comparison, which is not perfectly apt, but explains my point well enough.

Imagine a dusty room where all windows and doors are closed (Soviet times). At the center stands a big old-fashion bad functioning clock (society) with a heavy iron pendulum. The clock was made once so that it has two magnets: at the left side of the pendulum (the enormous attraction to substances and the tradition of substance use) and at the right side (the strong, prohibitive state). The magnet at the left side is much stronger. However, the clockmaker (society’s leader) wants the pendulum to be on the right side. Clock can produce a kind of illusion that the pendulum hangs in the middle (ambivalence), but in reality it still on the left. One very old clockmaker who almost forgot how to repair the clocks agreed with that and so he lived peacefully and died peacefully and the clock generally liked him (Brezhnev). The next clockmaker called him lazy and an immoral bastard - from the point of view of clockmakers it is immoral if the pendulum is on the left side, because they are all right-hands masters. So he decided to pull the pendulum to the right side as far as possible (Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign). One can do this only by using force which hurts the mechanism of the clock (imagine the clockmaker with a hammer). Because the pendulum is too heavy and the magnet at the left side is more powerful than those at the right, at one moment clockmaker simply did not have enough forces, so he could not handle it anymore. Thus he had to loosen the pendulum which of course returned to the initial position, i.e., to the left (which is what happened when anti-alcohol campaign was abandoned), and in that case the pendulum seriously injured the clockmaker himself.

Now imagine the same room after 70 years has passed, and all the doors and windows are suddenly opened. The old clock just like a conserved museum piece broke from the fresh air. The new clockmaker (El’tsin) decides to change the mechanism because it cannot be repaired. Clockmakers everywhere agreed that pendulum should be on a right side (UN Conventions). But some of clockmakers (let’s call them prudent) decided that it would be clever to create an illusion with the pendulum in at least the middle position, because, it is considerably easier and safe for the clockmaker. But others (the stubborn ones) get mad from this immoral idea, calling them lazy bastards and continue to pull the pendulum to the right.

Our clockmaker (El’tsin) was scared to death that he would be hurt just like his predecessor if he kept on trying to pull the pendulum to the right. So he followed the example of the prudent ones by taking things easy by creating illusions and then forgetting about the problem (the period of 1990-1998). But he is inexperienced, needs help and the parts of his new clock are expensive. So he has to go shopping and ask for help. Now the most qualified and richest clockmaker in the world ardently hopes to see the pendulum at the right, and he does not like lazy bastards who are just creating illusions. He is ready to share his knowledge and some nuts and bolts, but only if he is sure of his partner’s honesty and real devotion to pushing the pendulum back to the right. That is what eventually happens (1996-1998). And while the job of fixing the clock for our master is heavy enough, now he also must push the pendulum because he swears to do so. Again, this can be done only by force (the period starting from 1998). But how long can our clockmaker handle the pressure before the pendulum turns back and injures him?

In Russia, drug use is a relatively new social phenomenon. The societal controls that regulate the use of substances are rooted in culture and traditions, and based on experience gained in implementing different kinds of policies, as is for example the case with alcohol. Russia has too little “personal knowledge” about drugs. While it is not part of Russian tradition to follow Western models, in the case of drug policy it has actually happened twice. Thus, the pendulum swung first to a left (1990-1998), to a relatively liberal Western model similar to those of some progressive West European countries; and then to a right (1998-?), to an American conservative model. This is the main conclusion of this paper. And it is very paradoxical because of the strong belief in Russia that domestic drug problems result not from anything internal to Russian society, but instead from Western, especially American influence.

And then some more concluding remarks.

Before drugs were “officially rediscovered”, it was already clear for Soviet leaders that the Russian people love to use substances. But while heavy drinking is traditionally accepted and alcohol-related deviance is seen by the majority of the population as only relatively anti-social (the drunkard can harm himself if he does not harm the society), the same cannot be said for drugs. Drug users are feared and not understood, and the popular conviction that a drug user is a criminal and he would per se involve more people in illegal (criminal) activities, is very strong. In an orthodox Russian society, the public knowledge of someone once labeled as a “narkoman” (junkie) results in undesirable marks automatically attributed to the person – criminal, dishonest, unreliable.

“Drug culture is in many cases indeed “excessive”. And although the average citizen knows and appreciates the intoxication caused by alcohol only too well, the cultural distance between the world of drug users and that of the non-users is a vast one. Even in those cases when there is no question of addiction or disease, the modest citizen does not appreciate the drug culture. ... One of the consequences of this is a marked indifference to the violation of the private sphere of the drug user by the police or the justice department. Because one defines drugs as an evil it is not regarded as humiliating that it is punishable by law to have a gram of amphetamines in one’s house. It is not even felt as an injustice when the most outrageous sentences are meted out to people for consuming or possessing drugs. The world of the drug user is so far removed from that of the ordinary citizen that in this case the latter loses his or her normal sensitivity to injustice.” [172]  

The main argument for those who advocate punishment of individual drug users is the skyrocketing statistics of narcotics-related crimes. Yet, it is a myth. Statistics represents crimes connected with possession and use of drugs.

According to Levinson, Secretary of the RF President Political Consulting Council, Chamber of Human Rights, only 1% of all violent crimes are conducted under the influence of narcotics. The percentage of thefts – the popular opinion is that the drug users are “always stealing to buy a dose” – is as low as 0,4%. [173] To compare, every fourth act of violence is attributed to alcohol, and this substance is considered to be perfectly legal and a natural part of Russian culture.

Another myth is that the drug use represents a threat to a national security, taking into account the exceptionally high Russian mortality rates. In fact, the major studies on Russian mortality published in 1997 in Lancet [174] and in 1998 in JAMA [175] , does not even mentioned the use of drugs in the classification of the causes of death. To be specific, the main factors are: infectious and parasitic diseases, all neoplasm’s, circulatory disease, pneumonia, other non-malignant respiratory disease, alcohol-related disease, and accidents and violence (excluding accidental poisoning by alcohol). In the Netherlands, which according to public opinion is believed to be a “citadel of free drug use”, yearly about 2,000 deaths are directly related to the use of alcohol and 18,000 people die as a result of tobacco smoking. In contrast, annually less than 100 deaths are related to drugs. For every single death attributed to the use of illicit drugs, there are 30 deaths related to alcohol and 275 to tobacco smoking. [176]

When it comes to AIDS and other consequences of high risk behavior like injecting drug use, prevention must have a higher priority than the dubious goal of a drug-free society, so effective harm reduction strategies have to be designed and brought into practice.

What is my opinion about the substance use policy? I will summarize it in words of George Bernard Shaw: “We must always think about things, and we must think about things as they are, not as they are said to be.” This is what the first principle of harm reduction is about.

I have no opinion whether drug use is good or bad, because I do not know. I will say I do not believe in a suppressive substance use policy, because the right word for that is a policy of violence. Responding with violence is a position of weakness. That’s why the current “drug policy” should fail.


Source: Treml

TABLE 1. Per Capita Consumption of State-Produced Alcoholic Beverages in Russia

(Units of Measure: Alcohol in liters of 100% ethanol; Vodka, Wine, and Beer in Actual Liters by Volume)


Alcohol total










































































NOTES:  Per capita alcohol consumption data were derived from sales of all state-produced alcoholic beverages, i.e., vodka, fruit wine, grape wine, cognac, champagne, and beer, converted to 100% alcohol.  Home-distilled samogon and home-made wine are excluded.  Per capita consumption of fruit wine, cognac, and champagne is not shown separately.

TABLE 2.  Vodka as Percent of Total Alcohol Consumed in Russia, Selected Years             



























NOTE:  The data shown do not take into account consumption of samogon.

TABLE 3: Mortality from causes related to alcohol abuse, Russia, Death Rates per 100,000 Population



Alcohol Psychosis

Chronic Alcoholism

Alcoholic Cirrhosis of Liver

Accidental Alcohol Poisoning



































































TABLE 4: Per Capita consumption of State and Illegal homemade alcohol in Russia, Liters of 100% Alcohol


Year                                                         Alcohol                               Samogon                                        Total


1960                                                               4.60                                           5.2                                          9.80

1970                                                                8.30                                           3.7                                        12.00

1975                                                                9.90                                           3.2                                        13.10

1980                                                              10.50                                           3.5                                        14.00

1984                                                              10.45                                           3.8                                        14.25

1985                                                                8.80                                           4.5                                        13.30

1986                                                                5.17                                           5.4                                        10.57

1987                                                                3.90                                           6.8                                        10.70

1988                                                                4.40                                           6.8                                        11.20

1989                                                                5.16                                          6.5                                        11.66

1990                                                                5.56                                           6.2                                        11.76

1991                                                                5.57                                           6.7                                        12.27

1992                                                                5.01                                           8.8                                        13.81

1993                                                                5.92                                           8.5                                        14.43




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[1] Cohen, 1993 : 2

[2] Berg, van den, 2000 : GPArt041 HEALTH.doc – 41.I.v

[3] “Principles of harm reduction”

[4] Connor, 1972 : 39-40

[5] See Appendix: ”Vodka as percent of …”

[6] Smith, 1977 : 161

[7] Connor, 1972 : 57

[8] Treml, 1995 : 1

[9] Tkachevskii, 1969 : 3

[10] Anashkin, 1965 : 3

[11] Bogdanovich, 1958 : 4

[12] Wiseman, 1985 : 255

[13] Binyon, 1983 : 60

[14] “Russia’s anti-drink campaign”, 1989 : 50

[15] Connor, 1972 : 44

[16] Ibid., 1972 : 47

[17] “O prinuditel’nom lechenii…”, 1967 : item 333

[18] Pittman, 1967 : 5

[19] Riasanovsky, 1993 : 592

[20] “O merakh po…”, 1985 : 1

[21] “Russia’s anti-drink campaign”, 1989 : 51

[22] See Appendix

[23] Kirn, 1987 : 2485

[24] See Appendix

[25] Treml, 1995 : 4

[26] Nemtsov, 1995 : 46

[27] Treml, 1995 : 4

[28] “O nekotorykh negotivnykh iavleniiakh…,” 1989 : 48-51

[29] Treml, 1995 : 5

[30] Davis, 1994 : 310

[31] Kirn, 1987 : 2481

[32] Chugaev, 1989 :1

[33] Dornberg, 1973 : 1

[34] Powell, 1973 : 33; Source: Sovetskaiia Rossiia, March 27, 1963 : 4

[35] Babaian, 1979 : 13

[36] Fleming / Poling / Feltham, 1992 :31

[37] Min’kovskii, et al.,1999 : 24

[38] Ibid., 1999 : 24

[39] “Superpower politics…”, 1980 : 8

[40] Powell, 1973 : 31

[41] Dornberg, 1973 : 10

[42] Davis, 1994 : 311

[43] Dornberg, 1973 : 1

[44] Stump, 1975 : 10

[45] Shchadilova, 1989 : 44

[46] Min’kovskii, et al.,1999 : 24

[47] Ibid.

[48] Kalachev, 1996 : 4

[49] Stump, 1975 : 10

[50] “Drug abuse control…”, part II, 1990 : 15

[51] Dornberg, 1973 : 10

[52] Min’kovsii, et al.,1999 : 46

[53] Dornberg, 1973 : 10

[54] Min’kovskii, et al.,1999 : 16

[55] Gasanov, 2000 : 15

[56] Babaian, 1990 : 74

[57] “Ob usilenii bor’by …”,1974 : 782

[58] Min’kovskii, et al., 1999 : 58

[59] “O prinuditel’nom lechenii…”, 1972 : item 870

[60] Babaian, 1979 : 17

[61] Babaian, 1990 : 80

[62] Fleming / Poling / Feltham, 1992 : 34

[63] Stump, 1975 : 10

[64] Shchadilova, 1989 : 41

[65] Krasovsky / Podlsnaya, 1996 : 9

[66] “Kovarnye grammy durmana…”,1987 : 3

[67] Khudiakova,1990 : 6

[68] Shchadilova, 1989 : 42

[69] Cohen, 1993 : Note 10

[70] Davis, 1994 : 313

[71] Ibid.,            : 312

[72] Albats, 1990 : 15

[73] Driessen / Broeders, 1991 : 6

[74] Min’kovskii, et al.,1999 : 113

[75] “46,000 Drug Adicts in USSR”, Winter 1986/87 : 3

[76] Artemenko, 1990 : 3

[77] Kuleshov, 1990 : 6

[78] Driessen / Broeders, 1991 : 9

[79] “Drug abuse control…”, part II, 1990 : 15

[80] “O vnesenii izmenenii…”,1987 : 961

[81] Babaian, 1990 : 77

[82] Kornev, 1995 : 2

[83] Babaian, 1990 : 77

[84] “Drug legislation: get …”, 1996 : 10

[85] Fleming / Poling / Feltham, 1992 : 32

[86] Min’kovskii, et al.,1999 : 58

[87] Shchadilova, 1989 : 47

[88] Fleming / Poling / Feltham, 1992 : 36

[89] International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Russia, 1993 : 1

[90] Ibid., 1996 : 1

[91] popular Soviet singers

[92] Wines, 2000

[93] Klomegah, 1998

[94] From October 1996 through September 1998, the Yaroslavl non-governmental project “Friends Helping Friends” recruited 484 injection drug users (IDU) and conducted 766 health risk assessment interviews and education sessions (combining initial and follow-up interviews).

[95] Broadhead, et al., 1999 : 786

[96] Ibid.,,1999 : 787, 788

[97] Based on Reilley / Melnikov / Andreeva, 1998 : Annex I; and Broadhead, et al.,1999 : 787-788 

[98] Chekin,1998

[99] Evelyn,1996 : 1

[100] International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Russia, 1997 :1

[101] Evelyn,1996 : 1

[102] Ibid., 1996 : 2

[103] Broadhead, et al., 1999 : 788

[104] Karaganov / Malashenko / Fyodorov, 1998

[105] Min’kovskii, et al., 1999 : 113

[106] Gromadin, 2000

[107] Karaganov / Malashenko / Fyodorov, 1998

[108] Shchekhochikhin, 1991 : 8

[109] Thamm, 1994 : 16

[110] Karaganov / Malashenko / Fyodorov, 1998

[111] Klomegah / Taibbi, 1996

[112] International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Russia, 1996 :2

[113] Ibid., 1993 :1

[114] Ibid., 1994 :1

[115] Ibid., 1995 :1

[116] “O zakonadatel’stve po…”, 1990 : Item 1001

[117] “O vnesenii izmenenii i dopolnenii…”, 1991 : item 1867

[118] Ibid., 1993 : item 1316

[119] Berg, van den, 2000 : GPArt041 HEALTH.doc – 41.I.v

[120] Ibid.

[121] Kalachev, 1996 : 3

[122] Ibid.

[123] Cohen, 1993 : 6

[124] International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Russia, 1993 :1

[125] Ibid., 1995 :1

[126] Ibid., 1996 :3

[127] Ibid., 1994 :2

[128] Ibid., 1993 :1

[129] Ibid., 1994 :1

[130] Ibid., 1998 :2

[131] Ibid., 1994 :1

[132] Ibid., 1995 :1,2

[133] Ibid., 1996 : 2

[134] Min’kovskii, et al., 1999 : 112

[135] International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Russia, 1996 : 3

[136] Ibid., 1993 : 2

[137] Ibid., 1993 :1

[138] Ibid., 1994 :1

[139] York, 2000

[140] Ostrovskii, 1999

[141] Gromadin, 2000

[142] Saradzhyan, 2000

[143] Grund, 1993 : 21

[144] Ostrovskii, 1999

[145] Grund, 1993:229

[146] Feofilaktova, 1999

[147] International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Russia, 1999 :2

[148] Solovyova, 1999

[149] Karaganov / Malashenko / Fyodorov, 1998

[150] Sukhaia, 1998

[151] Blagov, 1998

[152] Karaganov / Malashenko / Fyodorov, 1998

[153] Vadimov, 2000

[154] Dettmer, 1998

[155] Karaganov / Malashenko / Fyodorov, 1998

[156] International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Russia, 1995 : 1

[157] Ibid., 1996 : 2

[158] “O narkotikakh i psikhotropnykh…”, 1998 : item 219

[159] Based on: “Spiski ‘sil’nodeistvuiushchikh’ i…”, 1991 : 46-48; and “Svodnaia tablitsa…”, 1998 : 14-17

[160] Kornev, 1995 : 2

[161] Berg, van den, 2000 : Crim: Pavliuk case 180698

[162] Belaia, 2000

[163] Ibid.

[164] International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Russia, 1998 :1

[165] Ostrovskii, “Rapid Questionnaire…”, 1999

[166] Conrad / Norris / Resner, 1999 : 27

[167] Karaganov / Malashenko / Fyodorov, 1998

[168] Badkhen, 2000

[169] Klomegah, 1998

[170] Berg, van den, 2000

[171] Cohen, 1993 : 2

[172] Ree, van, 1999 : 93

[173] Belaia, 2000

[174] Leon, et al., 1997

[175] Notzon, et al., 1998

[176] Grund, 1993 : 268