Drug Policies in Putin's Russia

"Based on the discourse analytical perspective (see Van Dijk, 1995, 2006, 2010) two main ideologies could be identified that constitute the basis of the Russian parliamentary discourse on illegal drugs. Firstly, an external threat ideology was identified, in which the drug problem is primarily regarded as an external problem, coming into Russia from other countries. In the Russian Duma, illegal drugs are seen as posing a threat to Russian society, mainly as a result of Afghan opium production. It is here possible to draw some parallels with the early US war on drugs rhetoric. One similarity with the early US war on drugs rhetoric is the strong focus on heroin as one of the main problems. For example, when President Nixon declared a “war on drugs” in 1969, the focus was on the growing heroin problem (Boyum & Reuter, 2005). Another similarity with the early US war on drugs rhetoric is the focus on supply reduction. In the US, for example, several American presidents have devoted resources to supply control efforts, e.g. Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush (Mathea, 1996). As in the US, this study of the Russian parliamentary discourse indicates a focus on supply rather than demand when debating the drug problem. For example, the politicians place a major emphasis on controlling the drugs entering Russia from foreign countries (especially Afghanistan), but focus less attention on rehabilitation and prevention. Secondly, a prohibitionist ideology was identified in the Russian parliamentary discourse. For example, there was a general consensus among politicians that Russian drug policy and legislation was too weak and that a more repressive policy was needed. However, this idea of drug prohibitionism is not unique to the Russian context but is similar to drug prohibition ideologies in other countries. For example, during the war on drugs in the US, prohibitionists defended strict legal sanctions against all illicit drugs (MacCoun & Reuter, 2001).

"When analyzing political discourse it is often easier to identify what is said explicitly.

"However, it is also important to identify ideas and ideologies that are not put into words. Based on the extensive research on injecting drug use and its impact on the spread of HIV in Russia, it is surprising that the Russian politicians examined in this study devoted so little attention to this topic. Further, the topic of substance treatment and injecting drugs was not discussed in the debate. It is therefore possible to argue that the results of this study indicate an absence of a harm reduction ideology in the Russian political debate."


My Lilja (2021), Russian Political Discourse on Illegal Drugs: A Thematic Analysis of Parliamentary Debates, Substance Use & Misuse, 56:7, 1010-1017, DOI: 10.1080/10826084.2021.1906275.