How agents lure Indians to join Russian army

Many of the recruits are now trapped on the Ukraine war front

26-Mohammed-Imran Tryst with danger: Mohammed Imran looks at a photograph of his younger brother Afsan, who is serving with the Russian army in the Ukraine war | P. Prasad

A firm helmed by a former chief secretary of Telangana has been named in the documents that facilitated a Hyderabadi youth’s journey to Russia to fight in the Ukraine war. Mohammed Afsan, a resident of Red Hills, is said to be in Donetsk region of Ukraine, which is controlled by Russia.

Afsan, 30, was working in a clothing store in Hyderabad till September, supporting his wife and two children. He received an ‘invitation letter’ in Russian sent by an agent for processing his visa. THE WEEK accessed the letter addressed to the Russian embassy in Delhi, which mentioned that Afsan was employed with a semi-conductor company located in Hyderabad’s IT corridor. The company has a former chief secretary and several well-known local entrepreneurs on its board of directors. Although the company’s address was correct, the contact number furnished was that of a top corporate hospital in Hyderabad. The letter said the purpose of Afsan’s trip to Russia was to “provide IT services”. His family told THE WEEK that neither did he work for the said company nor was he an IT professional.

Similar is the case of Mohammed Sufiyan, another youth from Telangana who is serving in the Russian army on the frontline. The 23-year-old, who is from Narayankhed town, took up a small job in Dubai after the pandemic. An agent promised him better opportunities in Russia. Sufiyan, too, received an ‘invitation letter’, which identified him as an employee of a Hyderabad-based company and invited him to provide IT services. But the company mentioned in the letter specialises in manufacturing stationery items. And Sufiyan has not even cleared high school, let alone computer engineering.

Both Sufiyan and Afsan got their visas, allegedly based on these letters, and flew to Russia in late 2023. Both letters were issued by Moscow-based Credo Technologies LLC.

Mohammed Sufiyan, too, is with the Russian army. Mohammed Sufiyan, too, is with the Russian army.

In the past, online investigators have linked a company named Credo with Russia’s top private military contractor, the Wagner group. Yevgeny Prigozhin, the controversial boss of Wagner, was killed in a plane crash last year after rebelling against Russian President Vladimir Putin. It has been speculated that Credo was one of the companies that was being run by either Prigozhin’s mother or daughter to help him consolidate his diversified business empire. But the original logo of Credo LLC did not match with the one printed on the invitation letters. The address in the letters was different from the original company address in Moscow. The phone numbers and e-mail addresses were also invalid. The letter had the signature of the CEO, Zaripov Andrey Nagimovich. According to Russian news websites, Nagimovich left Credo in 2018; he is now with National Platform.

“We do not know much about these invitation letters. The agents handed it to us and asked us to submit those and we did. Now we know that those were fake as we were told to delete all messages once we landed in Russia,” said a youth who travelled to Russia on a similar letter. He and others like him were not taken to the offices of Credo or other companies that issued such invitation letters. Evidently, a network of middlemen and agents is producing these fake letters to funnel the youth to the warfront in Russia.

“We are only concerned with the people once they land in Russia. Many are arriving daily through different means, including on tourist visas, and it is difficult to ascertain how they arrived,” said Ramesh, a native of Tamil Nadu who works as a translator with the ministry of defence in Moscow. He is closely involved in briefing the young recruits. According to him, nearly 100 recruits from India might be employed in different roles in the Russian military.

“When agents inform us about people arriving from India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka, we meet and talk to them. We explain policies and ground realities, informing them about the war situation. About 10 per cent to 15 per cent of them return, while the rest stay back. Contrary to popular belief, there are no special helper jobs. A job in the army means being capable of doing anything required,” said Ramesh. He clarified that none of the Indians were working for Wagner.

Some of the youth, including the two from Telangana, signed the contract letters with the Russian defence ministry and underwent mandatory training. Only when they realised that they might have to serve on the frontlines, did they try to leave. Most of them landed in Russia, lured by the offer of earning up to Rs2 lakh per month, with all rations free. They were also excited about the possibility of obtaining Russian citizenship within a few months of serving with the army. Their families now want them back, especially after one of them, Hemil Ashvinbhai Mangukiya from Gujarat, died in a drone attack launched by Ukraine.

The ministry of external affairs acknowledged that a few Indian nationals had signed up for support jobs with the Russian army. An MEA spokesperson said the government was in touch with Russian authorities for their early discharge.

“Hemil and my brother went to Russia in the same batch,” said Syed Salman, Sufiyan’s elder brother. “He died in front of Sufiyan’s eyes. He was digging a trench. Sufiyan called me the other day and started crying. He said he could be next. My mother is handicapped and my father is a driver. We are from a very poor family.”

Afsan’s elder brother, Imran, too, has not stopped worrying after being told that his brother might have been injured on the Ukraine-Russia border. He has not spoken to his brother for more than a month. The family’s woes are compounded by the fact that Afsan had taken a loan of 03 lakh to pay the agents and also for his travel expenses. “He has not been able to send any money, but that is not the concern right now,” said Imran. “It is his life that matters to us.”