The verdict for a Russian and Estonian pilot convicted in Tajikistan is unjustified and politicized, and hurts strategic partnership between Russia and the Central Asian republic, the lower house of the Russian parliament said on Thursday.
In a special resolution, the State Duma said the verdict was motivated by considerations of political expediency and that the pilots should be freed as a matter of urgency.
“The verdict has met with incomprehension and disappointment in the Russian Federation, it has raised many questions and provoked an extremely negative reaction,” the resolution said.
Russian pilot Vladimir Sadovnichy and his Estonian colleague Alexei Rudenko were sentenced to eight and a half years in jail last Tuesday for smuggling and violation of Tajikistan’s airspace.
Moscow has responded by expelling some 200 Tajik migrants.
On Monday, Russia’s public health chief called for Tajik migrant workers to be temporarily barred from Russia “for medical reasons.”
Flight captains Sadovnichy and Rudenko were returning from Afghanistan where they had delivered humanitarian aid in March. They had secured prior permission to fly via Tajikistan but Tajik traffic controllers said there was no permission “on the ground” and told them to return to Kabul. The planes did not have enough fuel and had to land in Tajikistan regardless.
Tajik authorities based their smuggling charges on the fact that the pilots had a disassembled engine onboard, which they said they were using for spare parts.