Russian Soldiers Accused Of Murdering Tajik Go On Trial -- In Russian Military Court
Two Russian soldiers accused of killing a taxi driver in Tajikistan have gone on trial at a military court inside the base where the men were deployed.
The taxi driver, Rahimjon Teshaboev, was killed in August and ihs body was discovered near a lake with his throat slashed. Two Russian soldiers, Fyodor Basimov and Ildar Sakhapov, were arrested and charged with the crime. Shortly thereafter the two Russians were transferred to Moscow for psychological tests, which Teshaboev's relatives feared was a pretext for letting the men escape justice in Tajikistan.
The case then dropped out of the news until this week, when it emerged that the two men were on trial in Tajikistan, albeit at a military court at Russia's 201st military base, where they had been serving.
The trial is starting at a time of particular controversy in Tajikistan over the legal status of the Russian base and its soldiers, after a street brawl last month involving some drunk Russian soldiers in their underwear caused a local scandal. As is often the case with foreign military bases around the world, the story became a touchstone for discussion about Tajikistan's sovereignty vis-a-vis its massive ally.
It's also an interesting comparison to a far larger controversy in Armenia over a Russian soldier's murder of seven members of a local family. That case got a lot more public attention than the murder in Tajikistan in large part because of the circumstances: the Armenian family was killed randomly and one of the victims was a baby, while in Tajikistan the victim knew the alleged killers, who reportedly owed him money.
But in the wrangling between Yerevan and Moscow over the jurisdiction over the case, one compromise was that the Russian soldier would be tried at the base. Armenia's leaders kept pushing, however, and ultimately got his case transferred to the Armenian legal system.
In the Teshaboev case, however, the Tajikistan government has not commented publicly, and if there is any negotiating between them and Moscow, it's going on behind the scenes. So it's not clear if the decision to return the suspects from Russia to Tajikistan to face trial at the base is a compromise of sorts on Russia's part. The story also has been barely covered in Tajikistan's press, which no doubt reflects the sensitivity of this issue in Dushanbe. So we shouldn't expect exhaustive coverage of the case, much less pressure to hand the two soldiers over to Tajikistani jurisdiction.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.