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Political Speculation Flies in Case of Central Asia Pilots

Pilot Aleksei Rudenko with his An-72 aircraft
Pilot Aleksei Rudenko with his An-72 aircraft Source: Photo: ERR

In the absence of clarity as to the harsh sentences handed down to pilots in Tajikistan, including an Estonian citizen, speculation is running rampant, with various parties advancing theories of a "Wild East" flavor.

ETV reported that the operator of the aircraft, the Russian company Rolkan whose domicile is the Virgin Islands, has claimed that the authorities had an interest in expropriating the planes, which are said to be ideal for landing on the cotton fields and could be used by local drug lords. ETV also quoted the company saying that Russian-Tajik relations are in a critical phase with negotiations over the future of Russia's 201st Motor Rifle Division stationed in the country, ETV reported.

The Russian media says that the pilots faced a kangaroo court to try to pressure the Russians into a prisoner trade as the son-in-law of the president of Tajikistan is serving a nine and a half year long sentence.

Slightly more than a year ago, four Tajik citizens were convicted in Russia; they were found to be carrying nine kilograms of heroin.

According to Russian news agency Interfax, President Emomali Rahmon has "taken charge" of the matter.

On November 10, Russian authorities arrested over 130 Tajik guest workers in Moscow. Another 100, detained earlier over breaches of immigration regulations, are said to be facing expedited return to their home country.

ETV also reported that the documentation for the planes was far from a state that would make them legal to fly. The last inspection was performed more than three years ago. And allegedly the planes were used by the Russian special service FSB during the war with Georgia - as reconnaissance planes, said ETV.

On November 8, Tajik court sentenced Estonian citizen Aleksei Rudenko and his Russian colleague Vladimir Sadovnichy to 10.5 years in prison, of which they have to serve 8.5 years.

Kristopher Rikken

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