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India raids ‘trafficking’ network sending citizens to fight for Russia; dozens of drones shot down

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NEW DELHI, India – Indian authorities said they had detained members of a “trafficking” network sending citizens of the country to fight for the Russian army in Ukraine after raiding several travel agents.

Two years since Russia’s invasion began, tens of thousands of its soldiers have been killed in Ukraine and Moscow is on a global quest for more troops.

At least two Indian soldiers have been killed in the conflict, with several recruits telling AFP they were shipped to the frontlines under false pretences.

Investigators from India’s Central Bureau of Investigation conducted raids across 13 locations on Thursday and detained “certain suspects” for questioning, according to a statement issued late that evening.

“These traffickers have been operating as an organized network and were luring Indian nationals through social media channels like Youtube etc. and also through their local contacts/agents for highly paid jobs in Russia,” the statement said.

“Trafficked Indian Nationals were trained in combat roles and deployed at front bases in Russia-Ukraine War Zone against their wishes.”

Meanwhile, Russia and Ukraine said they downed dozens of drones overnight, as both launched overnight attacks on each other’s targets behind the stretched frontlines.

Drones — both attack craft packed with explosives and those with advanced cameras for reconnaissance — have been used extensively throughout the two-year war.

Ukraine’s air force said Russia fired 37 Iranian-style “Shahed” kamikaze drones and three missiles at its territory overnight.

“As a result of combat operations, 33 ‘Shaheds’ were shot down in the Kirovograd, Odesa, Kherson, Mykolaiv and Kharkiv regions,” it said in a post on Telegram.

In Moscow, the defence ministry said it intercepted 16 Ukrainian drones in the early hours of Friday.

Some 15 were destroyed over the southern Volgograd region, the closest part of which is around 300 kilometres (185 miles) from the frontlines in eastern Ukraine.

Another drone was shot down over the Belgorod border region, the Russian defence ministry said.

Belgorod has seen multiple shelling and aerial attacks since Russia invaded in February 2022.

In the northeast Ukrainian Kharkiv region, an overnight Russian strike injured five people, including a three-year old child, Governor Oleg Synegubov said.

Kharkiv comes under frequent artillery, rocket and drone attacks.

Synegubov posted a picture of a row of shops with their windows blown out and a crater in a road next to a residential building.

The CBI said it had established “around 35 instances” of Indians being sent to Russia but added it was working to identify more potential victims.

India’s foreign ministry had earlier said it was working to secure discharges for around 20 Indian nationals in the Russian army.

The CBI named four suspects in the network including Dubai-based recruitment agent Faisal Khan, who had advertised Russian army jobs on his social media channel Baba Vlogs.

Khan told AFP last month that he had helped facilitate the travel of 16 Indian passport holders to Russia late last year for what he said were support roles in the army.

He said he had been “taken aback” when recruits were issued weapons, and “decided to put a stop to the recruitment process.”

Several Indian recruits told AFP in February that they were lured into joining up by promises of high salaries and Russian passports before being shipped to the frontlines.

The soldiers who spoke with AFP said they had been promised non-combatant roles but were trained to use Kalashnikov assault rifles and other weapons before being sent to Ukraine.

India is a longstanding ally of Russia and has shied away from explicit condemnation of the invasion of Ukraine.

Unemployment remains high despite rapid economic growth in India and huge numbers seek work abroad each year. AFP

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