Another major cocaine seizure on Russian territory suggests that the country may be becoming a transit point for cocaine to European markets amid intensified inspection efforts on the continent's largest ports.
Russian authorities seized 699 kilograms of cocaine in Moscow on April 10, according to a statement from the Federal Security Service (FSB), the country’s intelligence agency. The drug was destined primarily for the European market, the FSB reported. Two Colombians and a European citizen were arrested.
This seizure followed another at the end of March when police in St. Petersburg discovered 200 kilograms of cocaine hidden in a truck carrying fruit.
Other large seizures have been previously reported in the country, including 400 kilograms of cocaine discovered on a cargo ship that arrived at St. Petersburg’s port from Ecuador in 2019.
Police operations indicate that Ecuador is, so far, the main source country for cocaine arriving to Russia by container ship. But Russian authorities have also seized cocaine that has arrived from other South American countries, including, Uruguay.
Traditionally, cocaine has been trafficked from Latin America to Europea via container ship, entering Europe through maritime ports like Antwerp, Belgium; Rotterdam in the Netherlands; and others in Spain and Italy. Recently, new points of entry have emerged, including in Turkey and in the Balkans.
InSight Crime Analysis
The recent large cocaine seizures in Russia could indicate that the country's role as a drug trafficking transit point to Europe is increasing, in the face of increased controls in countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands.
As the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) noted in its latest Global Report on Cocaine, "seizures of cocaine in the country increased six-fold between 2016 and 2021, from 144 kilograms to 872 kilograms." The seizures made this year have already gone beyond those made in 2021. As of yet, seizure data for 2022 is not available.
Yulia Vorobyeva, a professor at Florida International University and an expert on drug trafficking and organized crime, told InSight Crime that "cocaine is distributed from St. Petersburg and Moscow, which are the two logistical centers ... from where it is transported in trucks to other countries in Europe.” St. Petersburg is the only major maritime port of entry for cocaine into the country, she added.
Vorobyeva also said that "Russia's role as a transit country could be growing," but it remains to be seen to what degree. Efforts to stem the flow in more traditional ports such as Antwerp -- the dominant point of entry for cocaine into Europe -- and Rotterdam could be one reason behind the increasing amount of cocaine arriving in Russia.
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In addition to seizures in Russia, Norway recently made its largest-ever seizure of cocaine at the end of March while police in Galicia, Spain, found Europe’s second-ever narco-submarine, capable of carrying 5 tons of cocaine.
Not all of the drugs arriving in Russia are shipped to other countries, however. Before the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war, "there were signs that [cocaine] was becoming much more available on the domestic market, as well as for consumption,” according to Vorobyeva. This echoes consumption trends in other emerging cocaine markets, like those of eastern and southern Africa and Australia.
Last year, Turkish investigative journalist Cengiz Erdinc spoke with InSight Crime on Turkey’s role as a lynchpin in the cocaine trade from Latin America to Russia and the Persian Gulf. Erdinc said that Russia played a “significant” role as a transit country for cocaine that arrives to Turkey and is then moved to other European markets.