Nepalis in Russian Army

Some young Nepalis have  reportedly joined the war on behalf of Russia against Ukraine. The Kathmandu government recently announced six of its citizens had been killed while fighting for Moscow. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world and its soldiers are being tempted to join the Russian army because of lack of gainful employment opportunities in their country. Unemployment is the root cause of their migration to foreign countries in search of job. Even a contract with a mercenary group seems preferable though it involves life risk and uncertain future. After all mercenaries are not bound by any war rules and conventions.

Nepal’s prominent daily newspaper The Kathmandu Post reported Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal as saying that in excess of 200 Nepali citizens have joined the Russian military since the full-scale war began in February 2022.

Strangely enough, Nepalis are also serving in the Ukrainian army as well according to a Nepali government statement.

In truth now-a-days private armies or mercenaries are being increasingly deployed by the governments across the world. The story of the notorious Russian mercenary group Wegner that was instrumental in advancing Putin’s military goal in eastern Ukraine is well known. And how the Wegner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin was eliminated because of his disagreement with Russian president Putin is also well known. Prigozhin is gone but his mercenary outfit continues to serve the Russian cause in the Ukrainian battle field. Wegner apart other mercenary groups are also active in Russia -Ukraine war theatre. Both Moscow and Kyiv are utilising their services.

In the middle of last year, Moscow paved the way for recruiting foreign nationals legally to fight in its army after a decree signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. And the response was not that bad.

Three months later, Nepal's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement urging citizens not to join foreign armies in war-torn countries. But the unemployed youth defied the government circular.

"The policy of the Nepal government does not allow Nepali citizens to join foreign armies except for the fact that Nepali citizens are being recruited in the national armies of some friendly countries as per the traditional agreement reached between Nepal and those countries".

Nepalis are recruited annually in the British and Indian armies, as part of the Tripartite Agreement between the United Kingdom, India and Nepal. This treaty was signed in 1947 concerning the rights of Gorkhas recruited in armed forces of the United Kingdom and India.

But Nepal has no such arrangement with Russia. This is, however, not stopping dozens of Nepalis from joining the Russian army. Those who reached Russia on visit and student visas are now enlisted in the Russian army. Then India and Nepal share unique ties characterised by an open border. Indians and Nepalis don’t need passport and visa to cross the border.

Nepal’s ministry of foreign affairs has asked Moscow to repatriate Nepali citizens immediately and not to commission them into fighting the war. The ministry is also on a diplomatic mission to rescue citizens captured in the war, now languishing in Russian jails or Ukrainian jails as POWs.It is not known how the Kremlin is reacting to Nepal’s diplomacy. “In October 2022, Nepal voted in favour of a UN resolution condemning Russia’s annexation of four Ukrainian territories, at the United Nations General Assembly”.

Many of the Nepalis serving in the Russian military have been reported missing by their families.

A few returnee Nepali soldiers have spoken to local media about the brutality of the war and the money involved in it. Some have revealed that they were not given proper training to go on the frontline and were not paid salaries for many months.

[Contributed by Diwakar Rai]

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Vol 56, No. 28, Jan 7 - 13, 2024