Russia pulls out of US drugs agreement amid worsening ties

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia said today it was pulling out of a decade-old drug control agreement with the United States in the latest sign of a deterioration in ties since President Vladimir Putin's return to the Kremlin last year.

The Russian government website published a decree from Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev saying Moscow had informed Washington it was withdrawing because the deal "does not address today's realities and has exhausted its potential." Moscow said it lacked the money to fight drugs when it struck the deal in September 2002 at a time of warming relations that followed the Sep 11, 2001 attacks on the US.

The statement implied that Russia - whose economy grew in the past 10 years on the back of high global energy prices - was now sufficiently rich to tackle the fight against drugs on its own.

A security source told the Interfax news agency that Moscow would keep open anti-narcotics programmes most heavily backed by the US Drug Enforcement Administration such as in Afghanistan.

But the decision's timing suggested that Moscow intended for the move to be interpreted as reprisal for recent US actions against Russia aimed at punishing those responsible for rights abuses.

The announcement came just days after the US said it was quitting a joint committee on civil society in protest at Putin's record since his return for a third term as president.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Melia said at the time that Putin's restrictions "called into serious question whether maintaining that mechanism (the civil society working group) was either useful or appropriate".

Putin returned to the Kremlin in May after serving four years as premier in the face of the first concerted swell of anti-government protests since Soviet times.

The former KGB spy then quickly enacted legislation making it more difficult for his opposition to organise and limiting its ties with the West.

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