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Putin backs down on Modi’s mercenary demand: Report

Russia will release all Indians who are fighting on the side of Moscow’s troops in Ukraine, in accordance with an agreement between Vladimir Putin and Narendra Modi, media reports.

The Indian prime minister arrived in Moscow on Monday for a two-day visit, his first to Russia in three years, with trade between the countries booming since Putin launched a full-scale invasion.

Indian media NDTV reported that the leaders discussed the fate of dozens of Indian soldiers who said they were duped into fighting after agents convinced them to go to Russia on the pretext of getting well-paid jobs. Two Indians have reportedly died in the war in Ukraine.

In March, a video emerged online showing men from the Punjab and Haryana regions dressed in military uniforms in Ukraine’s Zaporizhia region pleading for help, claiming they had been tricked into fighting.

Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Kremlin in Moscow July 9, 2024. The pair reportedly struck a deal to return the Indians, who say they were tricked into fighting…


ALEXANDER NEMENOW/Getty Images

NDTV reported that the men traveled to Russia on Dec. 27 to celebrate New Year. One of the men said an agent in Russia offered to take them to Belarus, not knowing they needed a visa.

When they arrived, they were abandoned by the agent and detained by the police, then handed over to the authorities, where they were forced to sign documents “forcing” them to fight in the war against Ukraine, the Indian website reported.

However, according to anonymous sources, NDTV reported that Modi raised the issue at a private dinner hosted by Putin on Monday, during which Moscow agreed to release all Indians serving in its army and facilitate their return.

The website also reported that Indian law enforcement agencies conducted raids and busted a gang that was smuggling Indians to Russia.

Asked about the alleged agreement between the leaders, Putin’s spokesman said: “We do not comment on this matter in any way,” state news agency Interfax reported. Newsweek contacted the Kremlin and the Indian Ministry of External Affairs for further comment.

By refraining from imposing sanctions over Putin’s aggression, India has leveraged its status as a “friendly” country toward Russia and now trails China in purchasing Russian oil. Trade in other products has also grown, with trade reaching a record $65.7 billion last year, according to India’s commerce ministry.

Putin and Modi are starting new terms, with the Russian leader re-elected to a fifth presidential term in a disputed election in March. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won last month’s election, albeit with a smaller majority than expected.

Modi broke with the tradition of newly elected Indian leaders visiting neighboring countries first, choosing Russia instead, a move that analysts have concluded was motivated by New Delhi’s concerns about Moscow’s growing dependence on Beijing.