The US and Russia have finally found a way to narrow their differences. The controversial October 28 joint Russian-U.S.-Afghan counter-narcotics raid may be a sign that both have started flirting after ignoring the bitter memories of cold war. A long-awaited romance seems to have started. Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president has condemned the raid. By saying that the raid was undertaken without the permission of his government, he has reinforced the perception that he is merely a mayor of Kabul city. It is not understood why they should seek permission to enter an area where Karzai government has no writ.
The operation marked the first time that Russian agents had joined their Afghan, American, and other NATO counterparts in such an airborne raid, which in this case destroyed four narcotics laboratories in Nangarhar province. The Russian government estimated the street value of the drugs destroyed at $250,000. U.S. officials, however, gave a considerably lower figure.
Foreign Policy Magazine has reported that the flood of opium entering Russia from Afghanistan has emerged as a major source of tension between Moscow and NATO, as Russian officials blame the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan for failing to curb that country's exploding opium production. Russian officials have been lobbying especially hard for the aerial spraying of herbicides to eradicate Afghanistan's opium poppy.
NATO governments have made clear their reluctance to meet Russian demands to eradicate the opium crops through aerial spraying of poppy or other actions against individual Afghan farmers. They fear that such direct action against large numbers of Afghans would prove a public relations disaster, alienating Afghans and facilitating Taliban recruitment.
However, following a formal change in U.S. policy announced in June 2009, ISAF forces have focused their efforts on destroying large warehouses storing illicit drugs as well as interdicting the flow of narcotics out of Afghanistan and the drug money that the Taliban uses to finance its operations, a policy more in line with long-standing Russian requests of NATO. In an interview with the author in Washington last month, Victor Ivanov, the head of Russia's Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN), stressed that, "Laboratories are a fundamental issue. This is precisely where narcotics processing occurs.... The farmers in the fields are not organized crime, but slaves. But laboratories - this is organized crime."
Despite the condemnation of Russian involvement in the raid by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Russian officials celebrated it as a new step in Russian-U.S. relations. In a news conference run by government-supported RIA Novosti news agency, Ivanov described his agency as having played a major role in the raid, which he said "shows that there are real actions being taken amid the reset in relations between Russia and the United States." Other Russian officials besides Ivanov have applauded the expanded Russian-U.S. cooperation against Afghan narcotics and expressed hope it would continue.