On November 22, a court in Tajikistan released two foreign pilots, including a Russian citizen, whose imprisonment on questionable charges two weeks earlier had infuriated the authorities in Russia and prompted them to respond in a way that threatened to ruin Tajikistan’s economy. Moscow’s harsh reaction to the incident appears to have been motivated mainly by the ruling party’s calculations ahead of the elections. Although Russia’s punitive action that focused on Tajik migrant workers was mainly designed for domestic consumption, it angered a large part of Tajikistan’s population and the political elite.
BACKGROUND: The pilots – Vladimir Sadovnichy, a Russian citizen, and Alexei Rudenko, an Estonian citizen – were detained in March after landing two cargo planes at a Tajik airport without permission. Several months later, they were charged with smuggling, illegal border crossing, and violating international aviation regulations. On November 8, a Tajik court found the pilots guilty on all three charges and sentenced them to eight and a half years in prison. The pilots alleged that the charges brought against them had been trumped up by Tajik security agencies as a justification for confiscating the aircrafts.