Tajik Railways accuses Russia of rail market grab

By bne IntelliNews April 24, 2013

bne -

Managers at Tajikistan's national railways operator claim that recent criticisms of sanitary standards on Tajik trains serving the Dushanbe-Moscow route are part of an attempt by Russia to take over international rail routes.

Speaking in advance of a transport ministry meeting, Tajik Railways Deputy Director Usman Qalandarov claimed that Russia wants to force the Tajik company out of international transit routes. The official pointed out that 80% of the Kyrgyz rail market is now in Russian hands, as is 50% of the Azeri market, according to reports in the Tajik press. "Now they want to push us from this market, and Uzbekistan. As a result, at least 500 of our employees will be put out of work," Qalandarov claimed.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and other Russian officials - including chief sanitary official Gennady Onishchenko - personally inspected a Tajik Railways operated train on the Dushanbe-Moscow route on April 15. Rogozin said later that day that such trains should "never be allowed into Russia," because they pose "a serious threat to the sanitary health of the whole nation", RIA Novosti reported. The deputy head of Russia's Border Guard Service, Vladimir Mochalov, also weighed in to recommend that Tajik trains be banned because they are "systematically used by drug traffickers to smuggle drugs."

Tajik officials have questioned the motives for the inspection. "Surely the chief sanitary doctor and vice-premier of the country [have better things] to do than to check the trains. This attitude means only one thing - eliminating competitors from the market," Habibov Muhammad, a presidential aide responsible for transport and communications, told the meeting, Avesta reported.

Russia now says it is considering whether to ban trains operated by Tajik Railways from entering the country, and a special working group has been set up to assess the issue. One proposal on the table is that Tajik trains transport their passengers from Dushanbe to Kazakhstan's border with Russia, where passengers will be transferred to Russian trains, Rogozin said in an interview with Russia 1 television channel.

In the interview, Rogozin slammed both the hygiene standards on Tajik trains and the identity documents carried by Tajik passengers, who are mainly migrant workers. "Perhaps we will relocate out train teams to the border of Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation, where they will make the necessary border and customs controls, check for drugs and other prohibited substances, and then transfer the passengers to Russian trains," he suggested. "However, I do not want to anticipate the proposals that the working group is drawing up. We gave the group a task in and one month it will report back to us. Then we will report to the president and make the final decision."

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