Well, it took two weeks but the Russian and Estonian pilots have today been released from jail after their sentences were reduced to 2,5 years, of which they’ve served six months and the remaining two years were pardoned.
Are you surprised?
No, I thought not. Me neither.
So how will both sides recover from what has been an almighty diplomatic disaster?
It’s important to note that this is far less important an issue for Russia than it is for Tajikistan. So for Russia, the follow up action is to drop its sanctions-based threats. There have been two of these: firstly, that fruit and vegetables from Tajikistan would be banned on health grounds. (My journalist friend Dima makes some very perceptive comments on the wider issue of food sanctions at the end of a previous post.) Secondly, the Russian health ministry can stop its scaremongering about the risk that Tajik migrants in Russia are carrying HIV or other viruses, this of course being a perfect excuse to send them home.
It will take more effort on the part of the Tajik government as it will have to attempt to regain some trust and goodwill from Russia. The government may not want to, but it will want to have the million-odd Tajik migrant workers sent back unemployed from Russia even less. Further, the Tajik government is still angling after Russian support for the construction of the Rogun dam and for a range of other projects.
Thus the economic imperative will win out and in a few months’ time we’ll be back to where we were before, a post-imperial dependency that shows no signs of becoming a more equal partnership.
In the meantime, I hope that the impact of this flare-up does not make life bad for the individuals that high level politicking seem to ignore, such as all the Tajiks in Russia who are trying to do their jobs and make some money to help their families at home. My thoughts right now are for the safety and well-being of these people. Let the governments fend for themselves.