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External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Thursday said he clearly and strongly raised the issue of Indians stranded in the Russia-Ukraine conflict zone with his counterpart Sergey Lavrov during a bilateral in Kazakhstan’s Asthana.

On whether he raised the stranded Indians issue with Lavrov, Mr Jaishankar told ANI, “Very clearly and strongly… several Indians have been pressed into service with the Russian Army. Only when they come back will we know the full circumstances. But whatever the circumstances are, to us it is unacceptable that Indian citizens find themselves in the army of another country in a warzone. I told him that we seek their cooperation and that they are our friend and partners. We have to find a way so that these people can return to India as quickly and effectively as possible.”

S Jaishankar added that Mr Lavrov appreciated the point and the Indian Foreign Ministry has been speaking to the Russian Defence Ministry in this regard.

“I urged him that we need a much stronger follow-up. I have taken it up and I intend to continue taking it up until all our people there come back,” he said.

Mr Jaishankar also shared his view on the upcoming visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Russia and called it a great opportunity for both leaders to sit down and directly talk to each other on the growing economic relationship between the two countries.

“There was a bit of a delay in our annual summits, it is a good tradition, we are two countries which have a strong history of working together. We did value the need for an annual summit. Last year when I went to Moscow, I carried a message from the PM that we are committed to the annual summit and we will do it sooner…it is a regular recurrence. It is a way of taking stock of any relationship…one of the biggest changes has been that our economic relationship with Russia has grown tremendously…at the leadership of level, it will be a great opportunity for PM Modi and (Russian) President Putin to sit down and directly talk to each other,” Mr Jaishankar said.

Around 20 persons were allegedly duped into fighting for the Russian Army in the war against Ukraine on the pretext of lucrative jobs. At least two Indians have died.

The MEA confirmed in April that among the Indian nationals who were working as support staff in the Russian Army, 10 have returned to India.

Earlier this year, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), busted a major human trafficking network running across the country targeting Indian nationals on the promise of offering lucrative jobs abroad but allegedly sending them to the Russia-Ukraine war zone.