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Russia-Ukraine war: Govt scrambles for Moscow’s response as more Nepalis die in war

Russia-Ukraine war: Govt scrambles for Moscow’s response as more Nepalis die in war

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has confirmed the death of three more Nepali men in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. They have been identified as Hari Prasad Aryal of Syangja, Bhar Bahadur Shah of Kailali and Rajkumar Giri of Dhading. Earlier, the government had confirmed the deaths of seven Nepali nationals. 

There is a widespread concern that there could be many more Nepali casualties that have gone unreported. A few weeks back, the government had said that at least 100 Nepalis were missing and scores of others were injured. 

The Nepal government has urged Moscow to urgently provide information about the number of Nepalis serving in the Russian army, stop recruitment of Nepali nationals and facilitate the repatriation of Nepalis killed in the war. A growing number of people have been visiting the Ministry of Foreign Affairs these days, with a request to locate their missing loved ones in Russia. 

So far, Russia has not responded to Nepal’s concern. The Nepal government is partly responsible for this situation. Soon after the war broke out in 2022, the Nepal government didn’t issue any advisory for those planning to visit Russia or Ukraine. Even when news broke out about Nepali nationals fighting in the Russia-Ukraine war, the government showed no urgency to inquire the respective embassies of Russia and Ukraine about the matter. 

The government was compelled to act only after reports about Nepalis dying in the war started emerging through friends, families and social media. Various national and international media also covered these incidents. Soon after, police busted a ring involved in sending Nepalis to Russia on visit visas to fight the war with Ukraine.  

Now, the government is grappling to ascertain the actual number of Nepalis serving in the Russian army and their current status. Recently, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal said there could be approximately 200 Nepalis serving in the Russian army, yet officials hint at a possibly higher figure. Compounding the issue is the situation of Nepali hostages held by the Ukrainian army. Bibek Khatri, Siddhartha Dhakal, Bikas Rai and Pratik Pun are among those captured by the Ukrainian army. The talks for their release have hit an impasse. 

The government is now on a frantic mission, attempting to discern the status of its citizens fighting in the Russia-Ukraine war, exacerbated by the lack of cooperation from Moscow. This has prompted a tightening of visit visa rules, with a mandatory No Objection Letter (NoC) for travel to Russia and other transit countries. Shockingly, certain manpower agencies, according to some media reports, persist in training Nepali nationals for enlistment in the Russian army.

Though Moscow says foreigners cannot be allowed to join the Russian army, President Vladamir Putin in 2022 signed a decree making it easier for foreigners to obtain Russian citizenship if they join the army. As reported by the Moscow Times, the decree said: “Foreign citizens or stateless persons who sign a contract to serve in the Russian Armed force… for at least one year and take part in military operations for at least six months, will be eligible for the simplified application procedures.”  

Recently, Putin ordered the country’s military to increase the number of troops by nearly 170,000 to a total of 1.32 million. According to the Associated Press, Putin’s decree was released by the Kremlin on Friday and took force immediately. It brings the overall number of Russian military personnel to about 2.2 million, including 1.32 million troops.

Beyond Nepal, Russia's recruitment of foreign nationals, including those from Cambodia and Cuba, adds a global dimension to the conflict. Reports indicate Moscow's pursuit of formal labor contracts with other nations, underscoring the far-reaching consequences of this recruitment strategy.

Foreign policy experts emphasize the need for high-level communication between Kathmandu and Moscow to resolve Nepal's concerns. As Nepal's Ambassador to Moscow Milan Tuladhar engages in talks, a former foreign minister stresses the need for political leadership to step in. If needed, they say, Nepal should ask big countries such as India, the US, and China to talk with Moscow and Kyiv about Nepal’s concerns.