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India raids network sending citizens to fight for Russia

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Indian authorities said they had detained members of a “trafficking” network sending citizens of the country to fight for the Russian army in Ukraine after raiding several travel agents.

Two years since Russia’s invasion began, tens of thousands of its soldiers have been killed in Ukraine and Moscow is on a global quest for more troops.

At least two Indian soldiers have been killed in the conflict, with several recruits telling AFP they were shipped to the frontlines under false pretences.

Investigators from India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) conducted raids across 13 locations on Thursday and detained “certain suspects” for questioning, according to a statement issued late that evening.

Searches were conducted in New Delhi and Mumbai, and cash amounting to 50 million rupees ($605,000) had already been seized along with some documents and electronic records.

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“These traffickers have been operating as an organized network and were luring Indian nationals through social media channels like Youtube etc. and also through their local contacts/agents for highly paid jobs in Russia,” the statement said.

“Trafficked Indian Nationals were trained in combat roles and deployed at front bases in Russia-Ukraine War Zone against their wishes.”

The CBI said it had established “around 35 instances” of Indians being sent to Russia but added it was working to identify more potential victims.

India’s foreign ministry had earlier said it was working to secure discharges for around 20 Indian nationals in the Russian army.

“We remain committed to the early release of our nationals… and their eventual return home,” a ministry statement said Friday.

The Russian foreign ministry has not responded to requests for comment on the issue.

The CBI named four suspects in the network including Dubai-based recruitment agent Faisal Khan, who had advertised Russian army jobs on his social media channel Baba Vlogs.

Khan told AFP last month that he had helped facilitate the travel of 16 Indian passport holders to Russia late last year for what he said were support roles in the army.

He said he had been “taken aback” when recruits were issued weapons, and “decided to put a stop to the recruitment process.”

Several Indian recruits told AFP in February that they were lured into joining up by promises of high salaries and Russian passports before being shipped to the frontlines.

The soldiers who spoke with AFP said they had been promised non-combatant roles but were trained to use Kalashnikov assault rifles and other weapons before being sent to Ukraine.

Relatives in India say the victims are being forced to fight at the front against their will.

Many videos are circulating on social media, in which Indian men can be seen seeking New Delhi’s help in returning from Russia.

They claim they had gone on tourist visas but were forced to join the army or face 10 years’ imprisonment.

India is a longstanding ally of Russia and has shied away from explicit condemnation of the invasion of Ukraine.

It has also stepped up its purchase of cheap Russian oil, much to the frustration of Western capitals.

Unemployment remains high despite rapid economic growth in India and huge numbers seek work abroad each year. (Agencies)

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