Tajik court releases jailed Russian and Estonian pilots

RIA Novosti / Lidia Isamova
A court in Tajikistan has ordered to release two pilots, citizens of Russia and Estonia, who were earlier sentenced to eight and a half years in prison for smuggling and illegal border crossing.

Russian Vladimir Sadovnichy and Estonian Aleksey Rudenko were released in the court room on Tuesday afternoon.

During the hearing, the prosecutor asked for the defendants’ term to be reduced to 2.5 years, taking into account an amnesty law. Given the term they had already spent in prison during the trial, this was, in effect, a demand for their immediate release.

“My clients plead not guilty in either of the charges brought against them,” said their lawyer Gulyam Boboev ahead of the hearing.“They have substantiated that in their complaints.”

The prosecutor called the previous sentence “too severe” for the offenses they were convicted of.

Dmitry Medvedev welcomed the Tajik court decision, his press secretary Natalya Timakova said, adding that the Russian president had ensured he was continuously briefed about the pilots’ situation and given it his personal attention.

“On a commission from [President Medvedev], necessary consultations were held with the Tajik authorities and all necessary measures were taken to protect the rights of the Russian citizen,” she told journalists. “Dmitry Medvedev has repeatedly stated that the Russian leadership would protect the interests of its citizens and provide them with necessary aid and support in difficult situations.”

State Duma deputies believe that the release of the pilots is a result of Moscow’s tough stance on the matter, and also a success of diplomacy.

According to Sergey Neverov, a senior MP and the Secretary of the Presidium of the General Council of the United Russia party, it clearly proves that Russia carries “serious weight in the world” and must be taken account of.

Neverov added that the absurdity of the entire situation around the arrest of the two pilots was clear from the very beginning to everyone both in Russia and abroad.Vladimir Sadovnichy’s return home “is a rectification of injustice,” he said as cited on the rulingparty’s official website.

Boris Gryzlov, the Speaker of the lower house, commented on the news on his Twitter microblog.

“Indeed, [the pilots’ release] is a success of diplomacy – including that of the parliament,” quotes Ria-Novosti.

Another United Russia member, Konstantin Zatulin, a member of the State Duma Committee for the Commonwealth of Independent States, said that even though the story is over, “it will leave a bad taste in the mouth and will influence Russian-Tajik relations.”

Despite acceding to Russian demands to release the pilots, the Tajik authorities were unable to resist the temptation to go on accusing them of breaking the law, since amnesty does not mean that charges were dismissed, Zatulin noted.The MP also observed that Tajikistan exacerbated the situation by trying to blackmail Russia, though did not succeed in doing so. He observed that the former Soviet republic “is not a reliable partner” and there are problems in Moscow-Dushanbe relations.

Last weekend, the president of Tajikistan, Emomali Rakhmon, ordered that the situation concerning the two pilots be “settled smoothly.”

The jailing of Vladimir Sadovnichy and Aleksey Rudenko has sparked a diplomatic scandal between Tajikistan and Moscow. The Russian Foreign Ministry slammed the sentence as “politically motivated” and “violating existing international norms.”

Shortly after the sentence was pronounced, the Russian Federal Migration Service started the deportation of about 1,500 Tajik migrant workers who have no valid documentation for their stay in Russia.  

In mid-November, President Dmitry Medvedev, insisted the move had nothing to do with the sentence and was “just a coincidence.” At the same time, he stressed that the deportation campaign was not a one-off and that, overall, Russia’s stance on illegal immigrants would be toughened.  

Sadovnichy and Rudenko were detained in March at the Tajik airport of Kurgan-Tyube on the Afghan border. Having completed a humanitarian mission to Kabul, they received permission to cross the border with Tajikistan and set out for Kurgan-Tyube. However on the border, ground control informed them that they had no permission to land, and instructed them to turn back to Kabul. The Afghan airport, operating under military conditions, was unable to accept the two jets. As fuel was running out, in accordance with international norms, Sadovnichy and Rudenko requested an emergency landing in Kurgan-Tyube. They were detained immediately.