The Gurkhas of Russia, Nepalese TikTokers Unveil Hidden Link to Russian Army

Russia has eased the standards for joining the military abroad because the country's desire for recruits is too great to be supplied only by domestic sources.

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Vaibhav Agrawal
Vaibhav Agrawal
Vaibhav Agrawal is the founder editor of Bhraman (a Digital Travelogue). As an independent journalist, he is passionate for investigating and reporting on complex subjects. He has an extensive background in both print and digital media, with a focus on Travel and Defence reporting. *Views are personal

The Dutch website Bellingcat recently published an article claiming Nepalese people serve in the Russian armed forces. By studying social media and their locations, Bellingcat was able to link Nepalese individuals with training institutions in Russia. Bellingcat acknowledges, however, that they have yet to find proof of their direct involvement in the fighting on Ukrainian soil.

The Dutch portal linked Nepalese citizen videos to Russian military bases and the Belarusian city of Burnaby. Videos showing an army mess hall and soldiers dancing to music can be found on the account of Kamal Acharya, one of the TikTok accounts under scrutiny. A second source details a signed employment contract written in Russian that refers to a decree signed by Vladimir Putin as president in September of the previous year. The document ensures the recruit will receive a one-time payment of around $2,150.

Bellingcat used the users’ TikTok profiles to identify them as owned by people from Nepal. Eight profiles, whose assumed owners are from different parts of Nepal, were verified by a partner with an understanding of Nepalese realities. It’s possible that the songs and conversations featured in the uploaded content came from Nepal or India, both of which have sizable Nepalese communities. Even earlier material reveals that the account owners filmed it in Nepal, and it was still possible to distinguish Nepalese dialects based on accents.

Men in uniform can be seen working out and taking selfies in their most recent TikTok uploads. Many of them were found at the “military-patriotic” camp Avangard (55°33’55.7″N 36°47’26.9″ E), which was around 50 kilometres west of Moscow. The building opened in 2019 and is an “educational institution for military-patriotic youth” with space for 600 people. Over 30,000 people per year are supposedly trained. Bellingcat found that the camp’s advertising videos, details in certain Nepalese TikTok movies, and satellite photos of the Avangard site all match up.

The hashtags #gurkha and #gorkhali were found in several accounts. The British colonial Army educated Nepalese soldiers in the city of Lahore, hence the popularity of the hashtag #lahurey. Young men from Kathmandu have served in the British and Indian armies for decades. British Gurkhas, formerly Nepalese citizens, have served in the British Army since 1815. The so-called “Indian Gurkhas” carried on this practice long after India gained its independence. Since 1949, the Nepalese Gurkhas have been integral to the Singapore Police Force through their ties to the country’s history as a British colony. Neither current nor former members of the Gurkha battalion were found to have served in the Russian military, according to the findings of Bellingcat.

While there are no official arrangements for Nepal to send its young men and women to serve in foreign forces, except India and Britain, some Nepalese do so. Nepal’s economy has significantly benefited from the export of its skilled military personnel, the Gurkha Clan, to the Indian armed forces. About sixty per cent of India’s 44 Gurkha battalions, each containing a thousand personnel, are composed of Nepalis. After India’s independence in 1947, an agreement between London, New Delhi, and Kathmandu permitted India and Britain to continue recruiting Gurkha fighters for their armies. The battalions also consist of Indian Gurkhas who are dissatisfied with alterations in recruitment policy. The shortened terms caused unrest throughout India. Nepal has ceased recruiting for the Indian Army since the scheme’s inception.

Despite the lack of an official agreement between Kathmandu and Paris, it is claimed that thousands of Nepalese people have joined the French Foreign Legion. Like other immigrant groups, Nepalese people in the US are disproportionately represented in the military. After the Philippines, Mexico, China, South Korea, Jamaica, and Nigeria, Nepal is the seventh-best country in this “discipline.”

The average beginning salary for a member of the Russian Armed Forces is roughly $1,800 per month. This is a substantial multiple of the average salary in Russia. An unidentified Nepalese recruit has stated that trained soldiers can make up to $2,500 monthly. What the soldiers are paid before that time is still being determined.

On the 28th of the Nepalese month of Bhadra – August-September in the Gregorian calendar, the Nepalese embassy in Moscow issued a bulletin stating a sharp increase in the number of Nepalese students enrolling in Russian universities. It was recommended that citizens not rush to apply for student visas. Bellingcat obtained an archived copy of the report after it had been removed from the embassy’s website.

Besides Bellingcat, Nepalese journalist Birat Anupam has maintained steady coverage of Nepalese nationals serving in the Russian armed forces. Those of Nepalese descent who enter Russia often do so under the guise of “students and travellers,” only to eventually enlist in the Russian armed forces. Anupam assumed that training would begin, so he contacted some of them over Telegram. The difficulties of enlisting in Western forces like the French Foreign Legion, the American Army, or the British Army were discussed between two people. However, they also discussed how easy enlisting in the Russian armed forces was. One of the men, who asked to remain nameless, claimed that after a year of living there, one can apply for citizenship, and if he is alive, he will stay.

A retired Nepalese soldier who had been working as a security guard in Dubai decided to take a better-paying job in Russia. He came to the city as a tourist and immediately enlisted in the Russian Army. He joined since he was able to join because of the lowered standards. In the past, you needed to be able to speak Russian. Anupam found out from the former security guard via Telegram that his command of English is adequate. He’s currently enrolled in a Russian military academy. He had previously served in the Nepalese Army and found the training easy. He said the weapons here are superior to those of the Nepalese Army in terms of technology.

Nepal has a long history of officially and unofficially contributing men to foreign armed forces. Many Nepalese have fought on the side of the British in conflicts since 1815, and many Indians have done the same for the British since India’s independence. Russia has eased the standards for joining the military abroad because the country’s desire for recruits is too great to be supplied only by domestic sources. Hundreds of Nepalese joined the Russian military because of their country’s lack of job options.


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