Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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Many armies recruit nationals from friendly countries to fight wars

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Why the hullabaloo over jobless Indians joining the Russian army

By Nantoo Banerjee

The government’s strong reaction to the news of the death of two Russian Army-recruited Indian nationals in the Ukraine war asking the Russian authorities for an early release and return of all Indian nationals serving in the Russian Army does not seem to be quite justified. It may be even considered as uncalled for in view of the long standing defence relations between the two countries that had tremendously benefited India during a difficult period. There is nothing secret about those young Indians going to Russia to take up helpers’ jobs in the Russian Army. The government was fully aware of it. Jobs in security forces are never risk-free. All Indian recruits were believed to have been apprised of the risks related to the job before they signed the contract to join as “army security helpers.”
In fact, the Indian government was well aware for many months that scores of young Indians had signed up for Russian Army jobs. However, the government did not take up the issue seriously with the Russian authorities until two of the boys were recently killed in Russia’s two-year-old war against Ukraine. No one knows for certain about how many Indian nationals are presently serving the Russian Army and in what capacities. The government is yet to officially disclose the number in public. Indians are not the only foreign nationals working for the Russian Army. A good number of Nepalese citizens were also recruited as soldiers by the Russian Army. Since January, this year, Nepal had stopped delivering permits for its citizens to work in both Russia and Ukraine. At least 10 Nepali soldiers had been reportedly killed in the Russia-Ukraine war while serving in the Russian Army.
Russia has been recruiting men from friendly countries in Asia and Africa since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. They are not professional soldiers, but wage earners. The pay packets offered by the Russian Army are said to be highly attractive in the Indian context. The Indian recruits are offered a monthly salary of Rs. 1.95 lakh each and Rs. 50,000 as additional benefits. The contract is valid for a minimum one-year period and mandates no leave or exit before six months of service. Normally, such recruitments are made under mutual understanding or agreement between the authorities of the concerned countries.
Earlier this year, under an Israel-India diplomatic dialogue, over 6,000 Indian workers were supposed to have reached Israel in April and May for construction work in a country which has been deeply engaged in war against Hamas militants since October last year. The ongoing war has damaged properties on both sides. Israel is facing a big labour shortage in the construction sector. The Indian workers were planned to be taken to Israel on “air shuttle”, following a joint decision by the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, Finance Ministry and the Indian Construction and Housing Ministry on subsidized charter flights, a statement issued by the Israeli government had said.
The Indian government made no such statement probably to avoid a political controversy over the sensitive matter concerning India’s diplomatic stance in the Israel-Hamas war killing thousands of innocent Palestinian children and women ahead of the parliamentary election. It is not clear if the Russian government also had a similar dialogue with India on the subject of recruitment of Indians as “helpers” in the Russian Army. The recruitment process remains unclear in the absence of an official statement from either side.
According to a report, around 200 Indians are working with the Russian Army. However, the actual number could be much higher since the recruitment figure pertained to only the Moscow centre. Other Russian centres were also believed to have been involved in such recruitments. According to reports, young men from Nepal, India, Somalia and many other countries have found themselves in the Russian Army. It is said that workers undergo a psychometric test and are explained the job risks before they are sent for training. Depending upon the army command, under which they serve as helpers, the personal background of the workers is fully checked before dispatching them to the battlefield to ensure that they are not spies.
Recently, the Indian government said it was aware that “a few Indian nationals” had signed up for support jobs with the Russian Army. “The Indian embassy (in Moscow) has regularly taken up the matter with the relevant Russian authorities for their early discharge,” said an official statement adding that “we urge all Indian nationals to exercise due caution and stay away from this conflict.” The question is if the government is aware of the fact that the Russian Army is wrongly recruiting Indians why didn’t it stop such recruitment in the very beginning, why the delayed reaction? What message does this give to a friendly country such as Russia and the rest of the world?
Russia is not the only country which recruits foreign nationals for armed forces. France, Denmark, Ireland and Israel are among the countries which recruit foreign citizens for their armed forces. The French Foreign Legion is the best example for an international army with soldiers from 140 countries. Incidentally, the Indian Army also recruits foreigners for its infantry, artillery and other branches. The recruits are Nepalese, Bhutanese nationals and Tibetan refugees. It also recruits persons of Indian origin who have migrated from Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Thailand, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Vietnam, with the intention of permanently settling in India.
As such, there is no reason why India should be touchy about jobless Indians wishing to serve the army of a friendly foreign country to support their families and have a livelihood. As a member of the United Nations, India had served peacekeeping forces in many conflict zones, especially in Africa. More than 2,00,000 Indian troops had served these forces. Over 160 Indian soldiers were killed in such missions under the UN flag as of September 2022.
Logically, there is no harm in serving a friendly foreign army under a bilateral or multilateral legal arrangement. War is a big threat to any nation. It is also an ultimate test of diplomatic friendship between or among nations drawn into a war. A nation engaged in war will recruit helpers only from such friendly nations which it can fully trust. Since the 1970s, Russia, formerly part of the Soviet Union, has been India’s most trusted defence partner. (IPA Service)

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