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6 Mar, 2010 15:38

Russian commercial pilots ordered out of Iran

Iran is expelling Russian pilots who work for its civilian airlines in a move that may be connected with Moscow’s willingness to support international sanctions against Tehran.

"Upon an order from the President [Mahmoud Ahmadinejad], the Road and Transportation Ministry has given a two-month period, after which all Russian pilots will have to leave the country," the Fars news agency quoted Iranian Transportation Minister Hamid Behbahani as saying on Saturday.

He said Iran has many professional and specialist pilots, and there was "no need to bring in pilots from abroad."

Aleksandr Pikaev from the Institute of World Economy and International Relations told RT there can be two reasons for the Iranian actions.

“One of them is indeed that Iranians decided to punish Russia for the possible support of anti-Iranian sanctions which might be adopted by UN Security Council quite soon,” he said. “Or, alternatively, the other version is that there were several airline crashes in Iran, airline crashes of Russian origin with Russian crews. And probably Iranians may believe that Russian crews are not professional enough to pilot Iranian civilian aircraft.”

The Russians have now been given two months to leave. It's thought to be a sign of Tehran's growing frustration with Moscow for potentially supporting new sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear program.

Earlier this week, President Medvedev said Russia might back further restrictions, so long as they do not affect Iranian civilians.

Iran's recent move to begin enriching uranium to 20 percent drew international criticism, with some nations calling for harsher sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Tehran claims that it is developing its nuclear technologies strictly for civilian energy purposes, while other countries see Tehran’s efforts as an attempt to build a nuclear weapon.