In Tajikistan, a decision has been made on the appeal regarding the sentence for two Russian pilots accused of smuggling. Russian citizen Vladimir Sadovnichy and his colleague from Estonia Alexei Rudenko were released from custody.
The story has been ongoing for several months. Until March of 2011, two AN-72 aircraft that belonged to Rolkan Investments Ltd and operated by Sadovnichy and Rudenko were engaged in the delivery of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. By the spring their contract has expired, and the pilots were going to fly to Russia through Tajik airspace. Without permission of the authorities of Tajikistan such flight would be impossible.
However, while approaching the airport of the Tajik city of Kurgan-Tube the air traffic controller suddenly announced that the aircraft did not have a permit to fly through the Tajik territory. The plane did not have sufficient fuel to return to Kabul. Even if they did have the fuel, they would have to seek a special permission because otherwise the NATO forces would have every right to bring down the airliner. They had to land in Kurgan-Tube, where the pilots were immediately detained by the National Security Committee of Tajikistan.
Then things took a nasty turn. The pilots were put in jail, charged with illegal border crossing, violating international flight rules and smuggling. The charges were more than strange. First, the issues of the flights of aircraft chartered by international missions are solved in advance. Accordingly, the violation of flight rules and illegal border crossing are unlikely to have taken place. As for smuggling, they had nothing but an old engine.
Different theories of what have happened emerged. One of them had to do with the fact that the Tajik authorities wanted to exchange pilots for the family members of one of the local high-ranking officials who are serving long sentences in Russia for the distribution of heroin. The second theory was that the Tajiks needed an aircraft An-72, and decided to "pocket" it in this original way. In any case, the legal grounds for the detention of the pilots were very loose.
In this situation, many questions were raised about the work of the Consulate of Russia in Tajikistan. It did not manifest itself until October 6 when the court of Kurgan-Tube began the process and the prosecutor asked that the pilots were sentenced to 15 years in prison on a very dubious charge. Sadovnichy fell ill in jail. Trying to justify their behavior, the diplomats said they acted quietly, not wanting to hurt the pilots. However, such an explanation did not look very convincing.
"The situation developed this way largely because the issue of pilots in distress was ignored. Perhaps, just because they did not want to interfere. This proves once again that in many respects in our development we are moving by inertia of previous years, when the fate of each individual person did not cause much concern of a seemingly large and strong, as were are positioning ourselves, at least in words, power. This trend must be resolutely stopped, "said in an interview with Pravda.Ru Konstantin Zatulin, a Russian diplomat, MP of State Duma, director of the Institute of CIS and Baltic.
Only when on November 8 the court sentenced Sadovnichy and Rudenko to 8.5 years in prison and nearly all the media reported it, the diplomats began fussing and brought the case to the attention of all senior leadership in Russia. Dmitry Medvedev instructed to work out all the possible channels for rescuing the captives. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke several times with his Tajik counterpart Hamrokhon Zarifi. Russian Ambassador Yuri Popov in Dushanbe twice discussed the topic of the release of the pilots with President Emomali Rahmon.
In parallel, by a decision of the Federal Migration Service (FMS) hundreds of Tajik guest workers were deported from Moscow. The authorities started talking about the fact that the percentage of crimes committed by Tajik citizens in Russia is very high. The head of Rospotrebnadzor Gennady Onishchenko asked to consider banning the entry at all migrant workers from Tajikistan due to the fact that they are infected with many dangerous diseases.
In addition, there have been considerable discussions in Russia about the introduction of visa regime with Tajikistan and imposing a special tax on bank transfers to this country. The fate of the property belonging to the Tajik leadership located on the territory of Russia was also discussed. Given the fact that transfers from Russia account for half of Tajik GDP, Rakhmonov and his staff could not but listen to the demands coming from Russia.
Now not only the pilots' defenders but also prosecutors appealed the sentence of Sadovnichy and Rudenko. When November 22 meeting of the court began in the Khatlon region, the prosecution tried to save face and make it look like the charges have not been dropped but the pilots have been released. They employed a pretty clever scheme.
The prosecutor asked the court to recognize the pilots as guilty of violating the air space, which means two years in prison. For the violation of flights they would be sentenced to one and a half years, but by partial addition the general term of punishment came up to 2.5 years. Sadovnichy and Rudenko have already served six months, and those who had two years in jail left are subject to amnesty. As a result, the pilots were released.
Russia, albeit late, stood up for its citizens (Rudenko was protected by Estonia). A very significant role in the happy end of this story was played by an enormous attention drawn to the process by the media. In many ways it was the media that made the Russian diplomats move and work properly. The country's leadership has shown that it can pay attention to the troubles of its citizens overseas, regardless of the positions of these citizens.
Hopefully, in the future Russian diplomats will pay attention to the wrongful acts committed with their fellow citizens from the outset, not only in Tajikistan but in any other country. Hopefully, they will not wait six months until the court proceedings start, or until the media will be filled with publications and reports. Protection of the citizens is the matter of national prestige. Otherwise, other countries will continue to wipe their feet at the Russian citizens and the country as a whole.
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