Investigation Reveals Nepali Soldiers Undergoing Training At Russian Military Camps

TikTok footage and geolocation analysis shed light on their experiences, raising questions about their backgrounds and motivations for joining the Russian army.

Representative image of Russian military

A recent investigation has revealed an unexpected phenomenon: Nepali-speaking soldiers undergoing training at Russian military camps. Through the analysis of social media footage and interviews with recruits, journalist Birat Anupam, in collaboration with NepalPress, first reported on this story. The footage posted on TikTok by several Nepali men showcased their training experiences in one branch of the Russian military.

Geolocation efforts uncovered two distinct training locations: the Avangard military complex located west of Moscow and a station in the Belarusian city of Baranavichy. The authenticity of the TikTok accounts was confirmed by the presence of a sign-up contract, which displayed a Russian-language document and indicated that recruits were entitled to a one-time payment of 195,000 roubles (US$2,300) as per a decree signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in September 2022. This decree also aimed to expedite the naturalization process for foreigners serving in the Russian armed forces, as reported by Bellingcat.

While there is no evidence suggesting the involvement of these Nepali soldiers in active combat, their TikTok accounts provide intriguing glimpses into their training experiences. Videos depict scenes of soldiers eating in army canteens, dancing in dormitories, and even cautioning others about the risks associated with joining the Russian Army.

The soldiers' TikTok accounts and the geolocation analysis conducted by the investigative team suggest that many of the videos were recorded at the Avangard center, an educational facility described as a "military patriotic youth" center. Situated approximately 50 kilometers west of Moscow, the center offers training in various military occupational specialties and accommodates up to 600 trainees at a time. Satellite imagery and other details in the videos align with the premises of the Avangard center.

Additionally, TikTok videos posted by the Nepali recruits led to the identification of their presence at the Maslovka train station in Voronezh, Russia, and the Baranavichy train station in Belarus. These posts indicate their travels to different locations for training purposes.

The recruitment of foreign fighters by the Russian military is not a new phenomenon, with Central Asians being the most prominent participants. However, the inclusion of Nepali recruits in recent times signifies a diversification of the recruitment pool. The motivations behind Nepalis joining the Russian army vary, ranging from the difficulties associated with joining Western militaries to the perceived ease of enlistment and the potential for obtaining Russian citizenship after a year of service.

Efforts to obtain official statements from the Nepal Foreign Ministry, the Embassy of Nepal in Moscow, and the Russian Foreign Ministry regarding Nepali citizens serving in the Russian army are currently ongoing.

The appearance of Nepali soldiers in Russian military camps raises questions about their backgrounds, the duration of their stay in Russia before training, and the reasons behind their choices. The use of hashtags such as #gurkha, #gorkhali, and #lahurey in their TikTok accounts suggests a potential connection to Nepal's esteemed Gurkha fighters and a broader military tradition.