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    IVANOV SAYS RUSSIA READY TO HELP U.S. AND NATO COMBAT AFGHAN DRUG MAFIA

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    WASHINGTON, April 7, 2004 (RIA Novosti) - Russia is ready to help the United States and NATO in the fight against the Afghan drug mafia, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told reporters at the Center for Defense Information in Washington.

    "NATO's activity in Afghanistan should be more open, especially regarding its partners and Russia, which bears most of the responsibility for protecting Europe from the flow of heroin from Afghanistan," Mr. Ivanov added.

    He noted that basic success in destroying the drug infrastructure in Afghanistan has not been achieved.

    "This is connected to the fact that there has not been any progress in building a civil society in Afghanistan or in finally dismantling the terrorist infrastructure," Mr. Ivanov said.

    "It is necessary to understand that a civil society cannot develop on the basis of drugs, and if a civil society and a normal, civilized economy does not develop, the hunt for Bin Laden will be pointless, because if he is caught, someone else will immediately take his place," he said.

    "We have the right to regard ourselves as part of the anti-terrorist coalition in Afghanistan, because our frontier guards stand on the Tajik-Afghan border and support the flanks of the anti-terrorist group," pointed out the Russian minister.

    According to him, Russia considers its primary goal is to support the Afghan government without attempts of a political dictatorship.

    "This also concerns the sphere of military-technological cooperation: the total size of Russia's free aid to Afghanistan today is $39 million," Mr. Ivanov noted.

    According to him, this money was aimed at the creation of a proper Afghan army which must establish order in the country.

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