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Tajik-Russian Relations Crash After Pilot Trial

By Galim Faskhutdinov






The jailing of a Russian pilot in Tajikistan has created a major political row with key ally Moscow.

Russian moves to deport hundreds of Tajik labour migrants are being seen as direct retaliation for the arrest and imprisonment of Vladimir Sadovnichi, a Russian national.

Sadovnichi and Estonian national Alexei Rudenko were arrested in March after the cargo plane they were flying from Afghanistan to Russia made a refuelling stop at Qorghanteppa airport in southern Tajikistan.

No one appears to dispute that the plane, which was returning from a humanitarian aid delivery in Kabul, made a forced landing. But the two pilots were charged with breaking international flight rules, illegally crossing the Tajik border, and breaching contraband regulations.

Tajik prosecutors say they were told by Afghan officials that the air company for which the men worked was operating under false pretences.

The pilots’ lawyers say they will appeal, and there is no substance to the charges. For example, neither drugs nor arms were found on the plane to substantiate claims of smuggling.

The Russian embassy in Dushanbe has expressed disappointment with the severity of the sentences, and hope that a fair and humane outcome can be found, given the good relations the two countries have traditionally enjoyed. But associates of Sadovnichi say Russian diplomats did far too little to support him in the seven months he was held.

In the meantime, Tajiks in Moscow fear they will pay a high price for this diplomatic dispute. On November 10 and 11, around 300 nationals of the country were rounded up by Russian immigration officials and threatened with deportation. The anti-Tajik mood has been exacerbated by statements from some Russian politicians.

The audio programme, in Russian and Tajik, went out on national radio stations in Tajikistan, as part of IWPR project work funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.



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