In what will be relief for the families of men recruited into the Russian military to serve at the warfront with Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has accepted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s request, made at a private dinner on Monday, to discharge those wishing to return to India.

According to sources privy to the decision, Mr. Putin has given instructions to this effect upon Mr. Modi’s “direct intervention”.

“We expect the release to take place within weeks from various places where they are serving or deployed,” sources told The Hindu on the condition of anonymity.

The decision, which was not announced formally by the Russian government after the Modi-Putin talks on Tuesday, comes after weeks of diplomatic discussions, and the issue being raised by the Indian Embassy in Moscow as well as by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a meeting on the sidelines of the SCO Summit in Astana last week.

“The Prime Minister raised this issue strongly in his talks with President Putin on Monday and Tuesday,” Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said.

Asked specifically if Indians who chose to remain in Russia would be allowed to do so, he said that Mr. Modi made it clear that he wanted “all” Indian military recruits to return.

According to those aware of the recruitment process and the routes taken by Indian men and agents who bring them, many Indian military recruits have not registered with the Embassy, as they are lured by salaries of approximately ₹2 lakh a month, the promise of Russian residency papers, as well as the possibility to use illegal migrant routes to go further West to Schengen countries in Europe.


Increasing pressure

The demand for the discharge of dozens of soldiers who claim they were recruited by the Russian military after being lured by agents on false promises has been increasing pressure on the government for several months. After The Hindu first reported on the demand that was raised by Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi as some men from his constituency had reached out, the Ministry of External Affairs accepted that there was a problem amongst a “few” such cases.

However, subsequently it has emerged that there are at least 50 Indian men serving at war front, of which four have been killed.

In Parliament last week, Mr. Owaisi had referred to Indians who were not being prevented by the government to travel to conflict zones in Russia and Israel as “cannon fodder”. The MEA has said that about 9-10 who reached out directly to the Embassy have been returned to India, after the Embassy’s intervention with the Kremlin.

The Hindu has learnt that several others had already received their discharge papers, but were awaiting a formal release from the war front by their commanding officers.

Russian government sources explained that the recruitment of foreign soldiers is permitted under law and conducted after “thorough mental and physical” checks. Recruits from Nepal, Sri Lanka, China and African countries are all believed to have been trained for a few weeks and deployed similarly to the Indian recruits. The Nepali government has also made similar requests to the Kremlin and taken up the issue in Kathmandu and Moscow.


Special gesture

The decision by the Russian President is seen as a special gesture made for India given traditional ties, as well as his personal rapport with PM Modi, that was on display at a private dinner he threw for Mr. Modi at his Dacha on the outskirts of Moscow on Monday. The two men embraced as they met, and Mr. Putin who congratulated PM Modi on his third term in office, then personally drove Mr. Modi in a golf cart around his estate, and took him on a tour.



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