Turkey cancels visa-free travel for Tajiks as Tajikistan rejects Kremlin’s claims Ukraine recruits mercenaries in Dushanbe

Turkey cancels visa-free travel for Tajiks as Tajikistan rejects Kremlin’s claims Ukraine recruits mercenaries in Dushanbe
Russia's national security chief has alleged Ukraine recruits Tajik mercenaries in Dushanbe who are enlisted in its International Legion, seen here in this photo from 2022. / Ukraine Ground Forces, cc-by-sa 4.0
By bne IntelliNews April 7, 2024

Turkey on April 6 cancelled visa-free travel for Tajik nationals. The day also saw Tajikistan’s foreign ministry reject a statement by the director of Russia’s Security Council that Ukraine has recruited Tajik mercenaries using an operation run out of its embassy in Dushanbe.

The visa requirement was announced by the office of the Turkish president. No reason was stated for the decision and the Tajik foreign ministry later said that Ankara had not officially notified Dushanbe about its plan to scrap the visa-exemption rule. In place since 2018, the rule permitted Tajik citizens to stay in Turkey for up to 90 days without a visa.

On March 25, Russian newspaper Izvestia quoted an unnamed source as saying that two of the four Tajik men alleged to have participated in the deadly March 22 terrorist assault on concertgoers at Crocus City Hall in outer Moscow—which took the lives of at least 144 people—probably received instructions for the armed attack when they travelled to Turkey.

Later on March 25, a Turkish security official told Reuters that two of the accused gunmen briefly entered Turkey to renew their Russian residence permits, but were not radicalised in Turkey. They were not subject to any outstanding arrest warrants and so were able to travel freely between Russia and Turkey, the official added.

Some experts on terrorism have concluded that Turkey has become a “jihadist hub” for Islamic State and other terrorist groups.

Also, two months ahead of the Crocus City Hall atrocity, a report submitted to the UN Security Council advised that an Afghanistan-based branch of the Salafi jihadist Islamic State group had in the past year recruited Tajik and other Central Asian militants to build to a size and sophistication that give it “the ability to project a threat into the region and beyond”.

Though the Kremlin is wary that a backlash in Russia against Tajik work migrants could spark labour shortages in the country, Russian Security Council chief Nikolay Patrushev—speaking at last week’s 19th annual meeting of the Security Secretaries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) member states, held in Kazakh capital Astana—claimed that Ukraine was recruiting Tajik mercenaries via an effort centred on its embassy in the Tajik capital.

Patrushev, an ex-KGB officer, also repeated at the SCO meeting previous statements he has made alleging that the origins of the terrorist attack were in Ukraine, with the Ukrainians under the control of Washington. Moscow has presented no evidence for such assertions, which have been described as ludicrous by Ukraine and the US.

On April 6, spokesperson for the Tajik foreign ministry Shokhin Samadi told Russian state media outlet RIA Novosti that Patrushev’s claims about mercenaries were incorrect and had no basis in fact.

Patrushev alleged the mercenaries were being recruited for Ukraine’s International Legion of Territorial Defence of Ukraine, or the Ukrainian Foreign Legion. It offers a pathway to Ukrainian citizenship for foreign soldiers who fight for Ukraine and choose to stay in the country.

Samadi was also reported as saying that authorities in Tajikistan—an ex-Soviet state that is a strategic ally of Russia, though it has offered no backing for the invasion of Ukraine—were taking measures to prevent any diplomatic presence in the country from violating the requirements of their diplomatic status, including via military recruitment efforts.

Under Article 401 of the Tajikistan Criminal Code, it is illegal to hire mercenaries to participate in foreign conflicts.

Russia’s largest military base outside Russia is in Tajikistan.