The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the Tajik ambassador to Moscow on Monday over the case of Russian pilot Vladimir Sadovnichy who was sent to prison for eight and a half years by Tajik court last week for smuggling and border violations , the ministry said.
“The Russian side has again expressed serious concern over the future of Russian citizen Vladimir Sadovnichy and Estonian citizen Alexei Rudenko,” the ministry said in a statement.
Moscow called the sentence “extremely severe and politically motivated,” after it was announced on November 8.
The pilots were detained by Tajikistan’s security service in March after landing at Kurgan-Tyube airfield with two An-72 transport aircraft, one of which was carrying a spare engine described by the court described as a “smuggled engine.”
The aircraft, operated by Rolkan Investments, had departed from Kabul, Afghanistan, where it had been carrying out humanitarian relief work, and was bound for Moscow. After entering Tajikistan’s airspace it was ordered to return to Kabul by Tajik air traffic controllers. The pilots said they could not comply due to the lack of fuel and landed at Kurgan-Tyube instead.
Earlier on Monday, a Tajik court opened a new investigation against Rolkan Investments’ owner, Sergei Poluyanov, whose company is registered in the British Virgin Islands.
Poluyanov faces the same charges as the two pilots.
The pilots’ case has sparked an increasingly acrimonious row between Tajikistan and Russia, which have traditionally had a close political relationship. Russia says it will expel three hundred Tajik migrant workers from Russia for violations of Russian law. Russia’s chief public health official said on Monday that Russia should introduce a temporary ban on migrant labor from Tajikistan for health reasons.