India on Tuesday said two more of its nationals serving with the Russian Army had been killed in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, taking the number of such deaths to four.

Russian army servicemen walk at an exhibition displaying armoured vehicles and equipment captured by the Russian army from Ukrainian forces in Moscow, Russia on May 31(REUTERS)

The Indian side also demanded a “verified stop” to further recruitment of Indian nationals by the Russian Army. The development came against the backdrop of reports that up to 200 Indian nationals had been recruited by the Russian military to serve as support staff, such as cooks and helpers since last year.

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“We regret to state that two Indian nationals who had been recruited by the Russian Army have recently been killed in the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine,” the ministry of external affairs said in a statement issued late on Tuesday night. It did not give details about the Indian nationals who were killed in the conflict.

“India has also demanded that there be a verified stop to any further recruitment of our nationals by the Russian Army. Such activities would not be in consonance with our partnership,” the statement said.

This is the first time that the Indian side has suggested that the matter could have an impact on bilateral relations. India has so far refrained from censuring Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and only called for the two countries to end hostilities and return to the path of dialogue and diplomacy to find a solution to their differences.

The external affairs ministry offered its deepest condolences to the families of the dead. “Our Embassy in Moscow has pressed the Russian authorities, including the Ministry of Defence, for early repatriation of mortal remains,” the statement said.

The external affairs ministry and the Indian embassy in Moscow have “strongly taken up the matter with the Russian Ambassador in New Delhi and with Russian authorities in Moscow respectively, for early release and return of all Indian nationals who are with the Russian Army”, the statement said.

In March this year, 30-year-old Hyderabad resident Mohammed Asfan succumbed to injuries sustained while serving with Russian troops on the frontlines with Ukraine. Hemal Ashwinbhai Mangua, a 23-year-old resident of Surat in Gujarat, died in a Ukrainian air strike in February while serving as a “security helper” at Donetsk.

The statement on Tuesday evening was issued hours after foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra attended the Russian National Day reception at the Russian embassy and was closeted with Russian ambassador Denis Alipov.

The external affairs ministry also urged Indian nationals to “exercise caution while seeking employment opportunities in Russia”.

So far, a total of 10 Indians working as support staff with the Russian military have been released and repatriated, according to the external affairs ministry. The Indian side has also pressed Moscow in recent months to ensure the return of all citizens serving in such positions.

Earlier, Indian authorities had acknowledged that two Indian nationals were killed while serving with Russian military units on the frontlines of the conflict with Ukraine, and that 20-odd Indians had sought help to be released from their jobs as support staff so that they could return home.

Indian authorities have so far not provided the exact number of Indians currently working as support staff with the Russian military. They have only given the figures of those who had contacted Indian authorities for help to return home.

Many Indian nationals have been duped into taking up support staff jobs by recruiting agents based in Indian cities and Dubai. Besides the four deaths, several Indians have been injured. Indians have also posted videos on social media seeking help to get out of their jobs with the Russian Army.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) recently busted a human trafficking network spread across several states that lured gullible young men through social media channels and agents with the promise of highly paid jobs in Russia. The trafficked Indians “were trained in combat roles” and deployed against their wishes at frontline bases in the Russia-Ukraine war zone, putting their lives in grave danger, CBI said.

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