Russia has recruited up to 15,000 Nepalis to fight against Ukraine – CNN

A protest against the recruitment of Nepalis outside the Russian embassy in Kathmandu, 6 February 2024. Photo: Nurphoto via Getty Images
A protest against the recruitment of Nepalis outside the Russian embassy in Kathmandu, 6 February 2024. Photo: Nurphoto via Getty Images

Russia has recruited about 15,000 Nepali citizens for the war against Ukraine, CNN and Nepali opposition lawmaker and former foreign minister Bimala Rai Paudyal have reported.

Source: CNN

Details: "Numerous sources" told CNN that about 15,000 Nepali men joined the Russian army after the Russian government announced a lucrative package for foreign soldiers last year.

The package included a monthly salary of at least US$2,000 and a fast-tracked procedure to obtain a Russian passport.

Nepal’s passport is one of the worst in the world from the point of view of global mobility according to an index created by consulting company Henley & Partners, below North Korea, and Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world in terms of per capita GDP, according to World Bank data.

The Nepali government says at least 200 Nepali citizens are fighting on Russia’s side and at least 13 Nepalis have been killed in the combat zone. But lawmakers and human rights activists in Nepal say that these official estimates are significantly lower than the real numbers.

Bimala Rai Paudyal, a prominent opposition lawmaker and former Foreign Affairs Minister of Nepal, said on 8 February in the upper house of the county’s Parliament that 14,000-15,000 Nepali men are fighting in Ukraine, citing men have who returned from the combat zone, and urged the Russian authorities to publish these numbers.

Four Nepali soldiers are currently being held in Ukraine as prisoners of war according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nepal.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has not responded to CNN’s questions about the number of Nepalis recruited by the Russian army, and how many of them have been killed.

CNN analysed the TikTok accounts of 10 Nepali men who went to Russia to join the army and, using satellite imagery, identified their location as being the Avangard training centre, a military academy near Moscow.

The facility was set up as a youth military academy and is described as a "patriotic education" centre. It has been repurposed as a training academy for foreign nationals who join the Russian army.

One soldier described his fellow academy cadets as coming from across the global south, saying he had Afghan, Indian, Congolese and Egyptian classmates, among others. Class photos from Avangard posted on social media show dozens of what appear to be South Asian soldiers with Russian instructors.

After their basic training at Avangard, CNN traced at least two soldiers to a nearby secondary base known as the Alabino training ground.

At this mechanised infantry training compound, which was geolocated with the help of the Bellingcat Discord community, a handful of South Asian soldiers in full combat gear appear to be familiarising themselves with operating alongside armoured vehicles and heavy weaponry, as well as packing gear bags and organising into larger units among Russian soldiers.

Many Nepalis enlisting in the Russian army have said that they don’t speak Russian but that instructors at Avangard train them in English.

Several Nepali fighters who returned from Ukraine spoke with CNN, blaming Russia for using them as cannon fodder in the war.

"It’s the Nepalis and other foreign fighters that are actually fighting in the front of war zones. The Russians position themselves a few hundred metres back as support," said Suman Tamang, who returned from Russia last week.

"Some of my friends were mistreated by the Russian commander when they tried to voice their concerns," he added. He also claimed that his unit lacked modern military equipment.

Nepali men who want to join the Russian army initially go to Russia on a tourist visa. Most of the people CNN spoke to said they travel via the United Arab Emirates or India. After landing in Moscow, they go to a recruitment centre where they undergo a physical examination, they say.

A one-year contract is signed, and the men receive a Russian bank account into which at least US$2,000 is paid per month. Many fighters say they have also been paid bonuses – and the longer they stay on the front line, the bigger the bonuses they receive. Some say they received up to US$4,000 a month.

Several Nepalis who fought on the Russian side said they only received brief training before being sent into combat.

The Nepali government has banned its citizens from travelling to Russia to work and has introduced stricter requirements for people trying to travel to countries such as the UAE on a visitor visa.

In December, the Nepali Foreign Ministry called on Russia to stop recruiting Nepali citizens and send home the remains of those killed in the war.

"We are very much concerned that Russia has recruited our citizens and sent them to war zones in vulnerable situations," Nepal's Foreign Minister Narayan Prakash Saud told CNN.

The minister said that Russia's deputy foreign minister assured him last month that "they will look into" Nepal's concerns but admitted that Moscow has not yet taken any steps.

"We don’t have any information that Russia is doing anything," he said, stressing that Moscow should "respect Nepal’s point of view".

"We have a traditional treaty with a few countries for the recruitment of our citizens in the military of those countries. But we don’t have such a treaty with Russia for such type of military or security recruitment," he said.

The minister added that he has requested a trip to Moscow to discuss the issue but is waiting for an invitation from the Russian government.

Saud also said that Nepal was negotiating with Ukrainian officials to secure the release of four Nepali prisoners of war captured by Ukraine from the front line. He said that Ukraine had some "reservations" and "legal questions" that the Nepali government was working to resolve.

At the same time, as CNN notes, it is unclear whether there will be any legal consequences for those who disobey the Nepali government's ban on travelling to Russia to work or take part in hostilities against Ukraine.

Kathmandu police said last month that they had shut down a criminal gang, resulting in the arrest of 18 people involved in sending Nepali men to serve in the Russian army. The police said they had searched several hotels where the arrested men were staying and confiscated dozens of passports and several hundred thousand Nepali rupees. But Nepalis have not stopped flying to Russia, CNN reports.

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