Russian party suggests suspending visa-free regime with Tajikistan

The center-left A Just Russia party has proposed to freeze visa-free regime with Tajikistan a week after a court in the Central Asian state sentenced a Russian pilot to a lengthy prison term.

The party said visa-free regime should be frozen until Tajik authorities take effective measures to curb drug trafficking from Afghanistan and movement of suspected terrorists to Russia via the country’s territory.

According to A Just Russia statement, current anti-drug and anti-terrorism efforts by Tajik authorities have failed to produce tangible results so far.

“This situation has been made worse by free entry and exit of Tajik nationals to the Russian territory, envisaged by an agreement of bilateral visa-free regime for residents of the two states,” the party statement reads.

The draft document has been submitted to the international affairs and CIS affairs committees of the Russian parliament’s lower chamber, the State Duma.

The announcement came shortly before the planned adoption of a statement by the State Duma condemning a sentence to Russian pilot Vladimir Sadovnichy, who was sent to prison last week for eight and a half years by Tajik court last week for smuggling and border violations.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has already called the sentence “extremely severe and politically motivated.” Tajik officials denied the case was politically motivated.

A relevant State Duma committee has recommended for approval on Thursday a statement in which the lower chamber of the Russian parliament “expresses full solidarity with Russian authorities, political forces and the society in connection with the Tajik court verdict.”

“The verdict was met with perplexity and disappointment in Russia, it causes numerous questions and an extremely negative reaction,” the draft statement reads.

Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of the Russian parliament’s upper house, the Federation Council, did not rule out sanctions against Tajikistan.

She said she handed an official letter by the Federation Council to her Tajik counterpart Makhmadsaid Ubaidulloyev, calling on him to study the case.

Shortly after the verdict was handed down, Russia’s chief sanitary official, Gennady Onishchenko, called for labor migrants from Tajikistan to be temporarily barred from Russia for public health reasons.

The Russian migration service said last week that 134 Tajiks had been detained and another 100 would be sent home for violating Russian immigration laws. A migrant movement leader said, however, at least 300 migrant workers from the Central Asian state had been deported.

President Dmitry Medvedev said the expulsion of the Tajik migrant workers had nothing to do with the pilot case. He also said that illegal migrants would be deported regularly from now on.

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