Diplomatic tensions between Russia and Tajikistan ran high on Tuesday, as the Russian government deported the first 300 Tajik migrants in a promised wave of expulsions.
The deportations are allegedly Russia's response to Tajikistan for jailing a Russian pilot on smuggling charges. Pilot Vladimir Sadovnichy and his Estonian colleague Aleksey Rudenk were sentenced to eight-and-a-half years in prison.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev denied the link, but noted that there could be more Tajik detentions and deportations in the future.
The government said that all of the Tajik migrants had broken immigration laws, while Chief Sanitary Inspector Gennady Onishchenko suggested that many of the foreign laborers carry tuberculosis and AIDS.
There are currently 1.5 million Tajik citizens working in Russia, some of whom were arrested on the job at construction sites in Moscow over the weekend. Additionally, the Federal Migration Service has reportedly stopped issuing work permits to Tajiks.
Russia's alleged intimidation tactics seem to be beginning to work. The Prosecutor's Office of the Khatlon Region in Tajikistan petitioned the regional court to lessen the pilots' sentences.
“[Due to] the personalities of the convicted men, as well as the fact that they are citizens of countries that are Tajikistan’s strategic partners,” the court should “mitigate the sentences handed down by a court in the town of Kurgan-Tyube,” prosecutors states, according to Russia's RT News.
Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon echoed the prosecutors' sentiments, looking to resolve the dispute so as not to ruin the alliance and strategic ties with Russia, The Moscow Times reported.
But the dispute goes beyond the pilot. Moscow has been trying to persuade Tajikistan to allow Russian troops to patrol the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border, where massive quantities of heroin are being smuggled en route to Russia, according to The Associated Press.
Rakhmon's son-in-law, Rustam Khukumov, is currently serving a prison sentence in Russia for drug dealing.
Since gaining its independence from Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Tajikistan has remained an ally of Russia. Russia has 7,500 troops based in Tajikistan that will be there for at least 50 more years, and the military has a space-tracking facility in the country.