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Russian Army Recruits from Abroad: Nepalese, Cubans, and More Joining the Ranks

SIPA USARecruits for the Russian Army during a ceremony before they are deployed.

NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 07:28

  • Eva de Vries

    Foreign editor

  • Eva de Vries

    Foreign editor

‘Stop recruiting our people’. With those words the Nepalese ambassador in Moscow turned to the Russian government after six Nepalis who had fought with the Russian army died at the front in Ukraine. Russia also brings soldiers from other countries. This is how it came out earlier that Russia Cubans is recruiting and that Syrians, Afghans, Serbs and Libyans are fighting on the Russian side.

Russia continues to send large groups of poorly trained soldiers to the front line, where they die in droves,” says defense expert Peter Wijninga of The Hague Center for Strategic Studies. “But Russia is apparently unable to fill those shortages in the usual way. That is why it is scouring the world in search of extra manpower.”

Estimates of the total number of Russian deaths to date vary widely. Russia talks about 6,000 men, but Ukraine says at least 300,000 Russians have been killed. Other countries and organizations cite numbers in between.

APAdvertising poster in St. Petersburg with the text “military service under contract to the armed forces”.

The Russian army must not only replace losses, it must also grow. On December 1, President Putin gave it bevel to strengthen its armed forces by 170,000 soldiers, for a total of 1.3 million.

“Not an easy task,” says Russia expert Hubert Smeets. “A lot of young men have fled abroad because they don’t want to join the army.” Russia must therefore work creatively to get enough people. This is done, among other things, through recruitment in countries such as Nepal, Cuba, Serbia and countries in Central Asia.

“A sausage is presented to them,” says Smeets. “A high salary, a Russian passport, or a good job in construction. Everything is used to convince the candidates.”

According to Wijninga, Russia must come up with significant amounts of money if people want to leave everything behind for a trip to the front. “But money is really not a problem for Russia.”

Russia also sees opportunities with foreigners in its own country. This is how the BBC discovered that Russia migrants arrests and recruits at the border with Finland. And some organizations advise foreign students at Russian educational institutions to leave the country immediately to avoid the mobilization.

Russia correspondent Iris de Graaf:

“Foreign guest workers, who are often in Russia illegally, are also easy ‘prey’ for the recruitment agencies. They are often promised a lot of money or a residence permit if they have served in the army for a while. Or they are simply blackmailed with their status.

For example, an acquaintance of mine, a Cuban man, works and lives illegally in Moscow. For almost two years he has been out on the streets as little as possible, so as not to fall into the hands of the security services. Two of his housemates, also illegal guest workers from Cuba, were stopped at the subway last year and were given the choice: fight in the Russian army or direct deportation to Cuba.

My acquaintance is afraid that the same fate awaits him and so tries to go through life as inconspicuously as possible. He recently got a Russian girlfriend and he hopes they can get married soon. With a residence permit he would be able to walk the streets again peacefully, without the fear of having to fight in Ukraine.”

Yet some sign a contract, lured by money or other rewards, only to end up at the front in Ukraine. “It is not clear exactly how they end up there,” says Wijninga. “We don’t know whether they go through thorough training or whether they are immediately given a weapon. They are probably not well prepared. Russian soldiers also often go straight to the front.”

Stretching time

Fighters from abroad not only strengthen the army, they are also used to polish Russia’s image, according to Smeets. “It should radiate: ‘Look who all wants to fight for us!'”

According to him, there are no masses of foreigners fighting on the Russian side. Yet they can contribute in the long run, says Smeets. “Unlike Ukraine, Russia is in no hurry. Stretching time works to their advantage, partly because Western support is steadily decreasing.”

Wijninga thinks that it will also help Russia increase support for the war in its own country. Putin declared his candidacy for next year’s presidential elections on Friday and hopes to continue the war in Ukraine during his fifth term: “Every foreigner who dies at the front is at least one Russian victim less.”

In October we published this video about Cubans being recruited for the Russian army.

Cubans recruited for Russian army: ‘My son was already at the airport’

2023-12-12 06:28:55
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