Your search keywords:

Nepal facing terrible brunt of Russia-Ukraine war

Nepal facing terrible brunt of Russia-Ukraine war

After Russia invaded Ukraine in Feb 2022, Nepal joined the chorus of widespread international condemnation against Putin’s Russia. 

Nepal went so far as to vote in the emergency special session of the United Nations General Assembly against  Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine and demanded that Russia immediately withdraw its forces and abide by international law. 

At the time, many foreign policy watchers said Nepal’s voting in the UN went against the country’s long-standing non-alignment policy. In the subsequent voting process concerning the Russia-Ukraine war, Nepal decided to maintain a neutral position.  The reverberations of the war was felt in Nepal’s economy too, although not as much in many parts of the world. Interestingly, soon after the war, Moscow came up with a new proposal to advance bilateral cooperation with Kathmandu.

Amidst the war with Ukraine, Russia invited Nepali politicians for an official visit. Chairman of National Assembly Ganesh Prasad Timalsina paid an official visit to Moscow last year.  The Russian Embassy in Kathmandu also submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressing willingness to contribute to Nepal’s connectivity and other areas.

At one point, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal even declared that he was interested in visiting Moscow or hosting Putin in Kathmandu. With its reputation taking a major slide, Russia wanted to create a favorable public opinion, and it had succeeded with the Dahal government. 

But two years after the war broke out, Nepal faces an unpleasant moment with Russia. Lured by good earning prospects, Nepali youths are flying to Russia through unscrupulous agents to join the Russian Armed Forces. The horrors of war have visited Nepal in the form of Nepali youths either dying or missing in the war.    

The official government figure says that 13 youths serving in the Russian army have been killed so far. But it cannot be trusted, since Russia does not give out the casualty numbers of its own soldiers, let alone the foreign soldiers who have joined its army. 

Russia has been recruiting foreign nationals including from Nepal to fight its war with Ukraine. Nepal’s request to Russia to stop the recruitment of Nepali youths has so far gone unheard. The Nepal government has also asked Russia to repatriate the Nepali youths who have joined the Russian Armed Forces and provide compensation to the families of those who have been killed in the war. 

Though Kathmandu and Russia are in constant communication, Russia is yet to respond to Nepal's request. It is not certain how many Nepali youths are currently serving in the Russian army. The government estimates the number around 200 but those who have escaped from Russia say that the number could be in the thousands.

Till now, 13 Nepalis have been confirmed killed, 50 have returned from Russia and approximately 150 families have submitted an application at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs requesting for safe return of their family members.

Security agencies in Nepal have nabbed a group involved in sending Nepali youths to Russia. Similarly, the authorities have tightened the provision of visit visa after it was found that most of the youths were able to reach Moscow using visit visas. Similarly, the provision of no-objection letters has been extended to 10 countries. Work permits to Russia and Ukraine have also been barred.

But many Nepalis continue to reach Russia to join the army. It is said most of the new Nepali recruits joining the war are migrant workers based in the Middle East and other labor destinations.  

According to government officials, Russia has agreed to provide compensation to the family members of those who have been killed in the Russian army, but the two sides are yet to agree on the modality of how the compensation will be distributed. Nepal has requested Russia to send the cash incentives to the families in Nepal, but Russia is saying that family members should travel to Moscow to claim the compensation. 

Nepal has also requested Russia to send the bodies of Nepali citizens who have been identified and kept in the hospitals, but the issue of who will pay the money to repatriate the dead remains uncertain.

It is said the government is also in talks with Ukraine to free five Nepali prisoners of war. But officials say Ukraine has set some conditions to free those hostages. Some of the conditions include legal punishment for freed hostages once they have returned to Nepal and a guarantee that no Nepali shall join the Russian army again.

As more families are coming out claiming that their loved ones are missing in the Russia-Ukraine war, the Nepal government is facing increasing pressure to hold talks with Russia as well as Ukraine to secure the safer return of its citizens.

At the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement Summit recently, Foreign Minister NP Saud met Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Vershinin and asked to stop the recruitment of Nepali nationals and send back those who have already been recruited. The latter assured to communicate Nepal’s concern to the Kremlin, but nothing came of it. Saud has recently expressed his willingness to travel to Russia to talk on the same issue, but Russia has not agreed so far.  

This week families of those who are in the Russian army organized a press conference to air their concerns. Suman Rai, who escaped the Russian army and returned to Nepal said more than 500 Nepali nationals have already died in the war and thousands are still serving in the Russian army. He added that most of the Nepali youths, who do not understand Russian language, have been deployed in the frontline.

According to some media reports, Russia has been providing around Rs 300,000 to Nepali youths. To attract foreign nationals to join the Russian army, the Kremlin has also pledged to provide them with Russian citizenship.  

Nepali youths who reach Russia are said to be paying up to Rs 1m to agents and brokers. The promise of lucrative salary has driven many Nepalis to risk their lives and join the Russia-Ukraine war. Even those people who were holding permanent jobs in Nepal’s security agencies are joining the Russian army.