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As Former Maoist Combatants Join Russian Forces, Nepal’s Maoist PM Is in a Quandary

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As Former Maoist Combatants Join Russian Forces, Nepal’s Maoist PM Is in a Quandary

PM Puspa Kamal Dahal has been unable to prevent Nepalis from enlisting to fight in Russia’s war in Ukraine.

As Former Maoist Combatants Join Russian Forces, Nepal’s Maoist PM Is in a Quandary
Credit: Depositphotos

On December 12, Nepal’s Prime Minister Puspa Kamal Dahal, who is also known by his insurgency-era nom de guerre “Prachanda,” was celebrating his 69th birthday. On the evening of the same day, a former Maoist combatant wrote on his Facebook about his “compulsion” to join Russian forces in their war against Ukraine. It was an awkward moment for Dahal, who was previously the leader of the Maoist rebels during their violent insurgency from 1996 to 2006.

In the post, which was widely shared in Nepal’s mainstream news outlets, the former Maoist combatant said he had fought for a decade to change Nepal’s structure. However, he said there had been little progress, and the change failed to live up to his hopes. 

Now he has apparently turned his efforts to helping Russian troops fight the war in Ukraine. In his post, he complained about “anti-Russian propaganda” by the mass media and the United States-European Union coalition. 

This public confession by a former Maoist combatant came weeks after news that six Nepalis had died in the Russian-Ukraine battlefield. Later, Dahal publicly said there were more than 200 Nepalis in the Russian forces

Until six months ago, not many people were interested and informed about the growing trend of Nepalis joining Russian forces. When Nepal Press broke the scoop in Nepal and The Diplomat made it a matter of global concern, the issue came under a spotlight nationally and internationally. 

The topic of Nepalis enlisting in the Russian military was raised in Nepal’s Parliament some six months ago. MPs Durga Rai and Achyut Mainali asked Dahal about the issue. During the parliamentary inquiry, the prime minister said that he had “deep concern” about Nepalis joining the war. However, he did nothing to stop this trend, which encompasses both Nepal’s civilian youths and his former Maoist combatants. 

Once designated as a “terrorist” organization by the U.S. State Department, the Maoists were delisted only on September 6, 2012 following their entry into Nepal’s mainstream politics in accordance with the Comprehensive Peace Accord of November 21, 2006. Since then, 1,460 qualified Maoist combatants have joined the Nepal Army. Some of them have been part of U.N. peacekeeping missions in different conflict regions from around the world. Still, there are thousands of former Maoist combatants in Nepal and abroad, all of them with experience bearing arms. 

According to Nepali youths who have joined Russian forces, Nepalis are not recruited as a separate force. Instead, they are recruited together with foreign nationals from around the world. Dahal has said that there are more than 200 Nepalis in Russian forces. However, Nepalis who are enlisted in Russia’s military say the number is closer to 1,000.  

Nepal’s government is not in a position to stop Nepalis from joining Russian forces outright. The Nepal Police has arrested 12 people in Nepal who were helping coordinate the entry of Nepalis into the Russian forces. However, this drive alone won’t stop this trend. 

Nepalis are joining Russian forces not only from Nepal, but from around the world. Nepalis living in Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, among others, have joined Russian forces. 

Nepal’s lack of well-paid jobs, huge frustration among working-class youths, and Nepal’s 200-year-plus tradition of fighting for foreign armies in the United Kingdom and India, among others, are major reasons contributing to the skyrocketing trend of Nepalis joining Russian forces. Nepalis have also joined the U.S. and French armies as private citizens. 

Now, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to give fast-track Russian citizenship after one year in military service is an added attraction for Nepali youths willing to join Russian forces. 

Millions of Nepali youths are working abroad. In the year 2022-2023 alone, more than 771,000 Nepali youths went overseas to find work. Therefore, it is almost impossible to curb Nepali youths’ entrance into Russian forces at this moment. 

Prakash Raj Pandey, a Nepali mountaineer, recently climbed Europe’s tallest mountain, Mount Elbrus in Russia. While traveling to Russia, he boarded a plane from Nepal to the UAE and from the UAE on to Russia. Pandey told me in an interview that he had met an unusually large number of Nepali youths flying to Russia from the UAE. He said those Nepali youths aboard the plane were not open about their motives for visiting Russia, which led him to suspect they were planning to join the Russian forces. Social media feeds of Nepali youths in Russian forces have told similar stories. 

Social media-savvy outspoken Nepali youths in the Russian forces are not just providing in-depth information about Nepalis in the war. They are also bringing a bigger picture of foreign nationals fighting on behalf of Russian forces. 

For instance, a Nepali youth told me that he has seen youths from India and Pakistan also fighting alongside Russian forces

Recently, a former Maoist combatant who has enlisted in the Russian military said that some Chinese nationals have joined Russian forces. He shared a picture of himself with a Chinese national, whom he described as “a warrior who came from Mao’s country to become Putin’s soldier in Lenin’s country.”