Do you think Russia should have more influence in the former Soviet states? Of course we should. We have wasted time. Our previous efforts did not have any system. Leaders of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan meet with me, although the protocol does not always allow that. The president of Kyrgyzstan, Roza Otunbayeva, and the prime minister, Almazbek Atambayev, tell me that their agenda is to clear politics of narcotics. Most Central Asian countries have a total collapse of industry and huge unemployment, while the price for the volume of narcotics moved from Afghanistan across their territories is worth $20 billion. That is several times larger than the countries’ budgets. Drug mafias accumulate much larger sums of money than the politicians running the country. Central Asia is across the border. We have to help them.
Are you aware of any radical recruiting taking place in Central Asian states? We know that when big volumes of expensive drugs like cocaine or heroin are moved along global traffic routes, sooner or later criminal groups dealing drugs transform into paramilitary outfits—guerrillas with weapons who provide safety for accompanying the cargo. With volumes growing, some of the drug money heats up the events we have in the north Caucuses. In the case of Kyrgyzstan, there is hostile competition among those criminal groups. In their case the anti-monopoly laws [the competition between cartels] work rather well: they simply kill each other.
As a KGB officer you took part in the Afghanistan war. Do you regret that the USSR fell apart? When I worked in Afghanistan in the 1980s, I could not ever imagine that the USSR would fall one day. The laws of physics are the same as the law of life. If a solid core falls apart chaotically, the energy the collapse produces carries destructive energy. Vladimir Putin called the fall of the Soviet Union the greatest tragedy of several peoples. Of course we cannot call the USSR an ideal model—it was not—but we had a system of cooperation with Central Asia. The destruction of that system took us to colossal negative consequences.
Russia seems to be having a variety of its own issues. Why spend money abroad? Our brightest example is the United States—they have a problem with cocaine from Latin America; to solve it, the U.S. helps the Mexican government fight the drug mafia. So our job is to increase economic and humanitarian cooperation with Central Asia—we already invested $7 million to help Kyrgyzstan. The level of unemployment in Central Asian states is significantly high, unfortunately.
Is the U.S. offering to combine efforts in fighting drug production in Central Asia? Unfortunately the U.S. and its partners who try to organize their anti-drug struggle did not show any results in reducing the volumes of production in Afghanistan. I met with Hillary Clinton’s aide in my headquarters in Moscow. After achieving nothing in Afghanistan, the U.S. suggests we jointly begin much bigger-scale work in Central Asia for three years. I have been telling them to fight the tumor and not the metastasis. It is they and not us who are present in Afghanistan.