Mint Explainer: How Indian volunteers ended up fighting for Russia

About 100 Indians have joined the Russian military as helpers or volunteers. Some of them now say they have now been coerced into fighting in Russia's war with Ukraine, and are pleading to be rescued. (AFP)
About 100 Indians have joined the Russian military as helpers or volunteers. Some of them now say they have now been coerced into fighting in Russia's war with Ukraine, and are pleading to be rescued. (AFP)

Summary

Indians hired by the Russian military as helpers say they have been forced into fighting in the Ukraine war. But there have been instances of Indians joining foreign sides as mercenaries

A few Indians caught in the Russia-Ukraine conflict have sent desperate pleas back home asking to be rescued, saying the Russian military had hired them as helpers but coerced into fighting in the war.

Out of roughly 100 Indians hired by the Russian military, at least one has been killed in battle. The Indian government is scrambling to secure the discharge of these individuals.

But it’s also true that Indians have willingly fought for other countries as mercenaries, and in a few instances for global terror groups as well. Mint takes a look at how all this came to pass.

What exactly happened?

According to a report from The Hindu, around 100 men from across the country, including from Gujarat, UP and Karnataka, were hired by the Russian military as helpers last year. The men were promised lucrative jobs and benefits and underwent background checks. However, it appears that at least three of the men recruited have been forced into fighting for Russia. More men are now coming forward with similar claims. These men have had their passports seized and one recruit from Gujarat has been killed in the fighting. According to some of these men, India’s embassy in Moscow has been unhelpful in extracting them from their situation.

How has the Indian government responded?

The ministry of external affairs has stated that it was “aware" of Indians assisting the Russian military. “We remain committed, as a matter of top priority, to actively pursuing with the Russian authorities all the relevant cases of Indian nationals for an early discharge from the Russian army," the foreign ministry said in a statement. It later stated that several Indians have been discharged as a result of India’s efforts. It also denied claims that the Indian mission in Moscow had been unhelpful.

Has this happened before?

In recent years, the question of Indians travelling abroad to fight for foreign causes has come up. Indians travelling to fight for terror groups like the Islamic State has occupied much attention, given the national security threat posed. Indians also fought as mercenaries in Lebanon in 2013. Several of these individuals were deported. The outbreak of the conflicts in Ukraine and more recently in West Asia saw several Indians volunteering to fight for Ukraine and Israel.

What is India’s policy on this?

There is some uncertainty surrounding the Indian government’s position on the matter. “No Indian can be allowed to go to a foreign country with an objective of taking part in the internal affairs of that country because it would adversely impact friendly relations with foreign countries, and allowing any Indian to go to another country to take part in a conflict (which amounts to taking part in terrorist activity) would lead to the allegation that the Indian government is promoting terrorism in other countries," India’s home ministry said in an affidavit. However, it is unclear if those Indians returning from Russia will be prosecuted in any way.

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