CALCUTTA, India (AP) _ Five Russians convicted of providing weapons to rebels in eastern India were released Saturday following pressure from the Russian government.

Dozens of police surrounded the five, crew members of a Latvian plane, as they were escorted from a Calcutta jail to the Russian consulate.

India's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that their sentences had been commuted.

``The Russian leadership has repeatedly raised the issue of pardon for the Russians. Their family members have also appealed to the president of India seeking mercy,'' the statement said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed thanks for the release.

``This gesture without any doubt will contribute to further successful development of relations between our countries,'' Putin said in a statement.

They were convicted in 1995 of airdropping crates of weapons to the Ananda Marg sect in West Bengal. But they said they were forced at gunpoint by the plane's owner, and Russian government officials, clergy and human rights activists had lobbied for them.