Crossroads Asia

Tajikistan and Russia Settle Brief Aviation Spat

Realistically, Dushanbe didn’t have much leverage on Moscow over allowing fights from the newest Russian airport.

Tajikistan and Russia Settle Brief Aviation Spat
Credit: Dmitriy Pichugin / Wikimedia Commons

A brief row between Russia and Tajikistan over airports is over, with Dushanbe backing down on its refusal to accept flights from Zhukovsky International Airport. Opened in May and located 40 km southeast of Moscow, Zhukovsky is the Moscow metropolitan area’s fourth international airport. Russian authorities threatened earlier this month to suspend flights to Tajikistan as of November 8.

It’s can’t be understated how important travel to Russia is for Tajikistan. According to EurasiaNet, “95 percent of the totality of Tajikistan’s international air traffic” are flights to and from Russia. Tajik authorities estimated this summer that nearly 900,000 Tajiks were working in Russia (the true number is likely higher when adding illegal immigrants), a decline from previous years but still a immense number for state boasting a population of about 8 million.

The tiff was touched off when Dushanbe refused to accept flights from Zhukovsky. Tajikistan’s objections were nominally technical. Asia-Plus reported a statement on November 4 from the Tajik  civil aviation authorities which detailed that existing agreements on mutual flights don’t cover the new routes to Zhukovsky from Dushanbe and Khujand. The Tajik side said the airport belonged to Moscow and that new agreements would be needed, referencing “parity” as the new flights would be via Russian carriers.

The statement also took offense at a Kommersant article titled “Tajikistan Cannot Takeoff” which detailed the spat. The Kommersant article said the Russian Ministry of Transport had pointed out that the main customers for flights between the two countries were Tajik labor migrants and that such migrants accounted for 48 percent of Tajik GDP.

RFE/RL reported that a Tajik Transport Ministry spokesman said Tajikistan needed “to protect the interests of our air companies.” Tajikistan has two air carriers, state-owned Tajik Air and Somoni Air, a private airline; meanwhile, four Russian carriers — UTair, Ural Airlines, Rossiya and S7 — fly to Tajikistan, mostly to Dushanbe and Khujand, with fights from Qurghonteppa and Kulob only to Moscow.

Dushanbe had said consultations were planned for November 24, but with Russia’s deadline to stop flights pending a Tajik delegation was dispatched to Moscow to negotiate a way forward over the weekend. They came to the only logical conclusion: that air traffic between the two countries would continue uninterrupted. The negotiations settled on flights from Zhukovsky twice-a-week to both Dushanbe and Khujand.

The Tajiks did not leave the negotiations completely empty-handed, however. The Tajik Embassy in Russia said that in the course of negotiations Russia had agreed to allow Tajik airlines to fly to Ufa, Chelyabinsk and Barnaul and add another flight to the Khujand-St. Petersburg route.