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Nepalis in Russian Army: Nepal intensifies diplomatic efforts

Nepalis in Russian Army: Nepal intensifies diplomatic efforts

Nepal has intensified diplomatic efforts with Russia to address the key concerns surrounding Nepali youths joining the Russian army. Speaking with ApEx, Foreign Minister NP Saud said the number of Nepali youths in the Russian army could be higher than the government estimates. 

“The number of casualties and missing could also be higher,” said Saud. Given the situation in Russia, the minister said that the government has taken a series of measures to stop Nepalis traveling to Russia as well as Ukraine through various transit countries. 

Russia has been enlisting Nepali men in its army and sending them to fight the war with Ukraine without the knowledge of Nepal. The presence of Nepalis in the Russian army was made known by the enlistees through their social media posts.

The government view is that the Kremlin should have stopped Nepalis from joining the Russian Army in the first place. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal said recently that approximately 200 Nepalis were serving in the Russian army, but other independent observers who have returned from the country say the number could be much higher. Till date, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has confirmed the death of six Nepalis. 

Nepal Police recently busted a gang involved in the smuggling of people to Russia, leading to the suspicion that many Nepali youths are currently serving in the Russian army. Minister Saud said the Nepal government will ask Russia to ascertain the number of Nepalis in its army, as well as the number of dead, injured and prisoners of war.

“We are in the process of taking up these issues with the concerned authorities,” he told ApEx.

In recent weeks, there have been increasing reports about the death and hostage taking of Nepalis serving in the Russian army. Videos of some Nepali hostages asking for help have also been released.  

As Nepal and Russia enjoy a cordial relationship and both countries have their residential embassies in each other’s capital, Nepal may not need support of a third country to repatriate its citizens.

 Even in the war-time, Nepali politicians have been visiting Russia. Prime Minister Dahal recently expressed his wish to visit Moscow and to host Russian President Vladamir Putin in Kathmandu.

In April, Chairman of National Assembly Ganesh Prasad Timalsina had also visited Russia. Soon after his visit, Russia handed over a paper to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs identifying the areas that Russia wants to engage with Nepal. There have been other high-level exchanges between the two countries as well.  According to some observers, as the two countries have been in constant communication and hosting each other’s delegations, nothing should stop them from talking about the Nepalis joining the Russian army.

Besides issuing a press statement on December 4, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not said anything about the death, injury or captivity of Nepali youths in the Russia-Ukraine war.On December 7, the National Human Rights Commission urged the government to rescue the Nepalis from Russia and Ukraine. But the response from the government agencies, including the Nepali Embassy in Moscow, has remained slow.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin too seems reluctant to address the issue. In response to BBC Nepali Service’s question, Putin’s office recently said that it was unaware about the recruitment of Nepalis in the Russian army.  “Foreign nationals cannot serve in the Russian army,” BBC quoted a senior Russian official as saying. With Russia clearly unwilling to engage, observers say the government should not hesitate to dispatch a high-level team to Moscow to investigate and resolve the matter.