Hundreds of Cubans have been recruited to join Russia in its war against Ukraine, motivated by the promise of financial rewards and Russian citizenship offered by online recruiters, CNN reported on September 19.
Two young Cubans, Alex Vega and Androf Velazquez, were duped into believing they could get jobs in the construction industry in Russia. They were promised Russian passports and citizenship in exchange for participating in reconstruction projects in war-affected areas, Telemundo 51 reported.
When they arrived in Moscow on July 7, they found a different situation: They were met by a Cuban officer and a woman who had recruited them. They were forced to wear military uniforms and sent to the front lines.
Hundreds of Cubans found themselves in a similar situation, some losing their lives, other going missing, Telemundo 51 reported.
According to a September 18 Time magazine article, similar stories began to surface as Cuban citizens turn to social networks and talk shows, seeking information about their relatives who traveled to Moscow and are now missing.
“They deployed to protect Russian troops. They are cannon fodder,” Cecilia said in an interview with CNN, referring to her son Miguel, who is on the front line in the war with Ukraine. Miguel feigned to have an illness to avoid combat, but his Russian superiors would not have it.
“It’s not believable that the Cuban intelligence system, which monitors even the smallest details of what happens on the island, has not detected these recruitments, considering that young people are leaving the country and Cuba keeps meticulous records of this,” Jorge Serrano, a security expert and member of the team of advisors to the Intelligence Commission of the Peruvian Congress, told Diálogo on October 8.
In May several Cubans in Russia joined the Russian Army, under the promise of fast-track citizenship for themselves and their families, BBC Mundo reported. In July and August, Cuba may have sent more than 14,000 military personnel to Russia, reported Argentine news site Infobae.
“Cuba is not part of the war conflict in Ukraine,” the Cuban Foreign Ministry told CNN in a statement. “We will act energetically against anyone who, from the national territory, participates in any form of human trafficking for the purpose of recruitment or mercenarism, so that Cuban citizens take up arms against any country.”
According to the statement, the Cuban Ministry of the Interior was able to dismantle a human trafficking network from Russia that was recruiting Cuban citizens to join military forces against Ukraine, thwarting several recruitment attempts and taking legal measures against those involved.
The claim that they discovered these traffickers is, according to Serrano, completely false. “In Cuba, all levels are strictly supervised by the Cuban secret service, which makes it unlikely that these activities went unnoticed by the dictatorship.”
Serrano also stressed Cuba’s long history in international conflicts. Its troops have been present in Asia, Europe, Africa, and throughout Latin America. Between 1975 and 1991, Fidel Castro sent as many as 400,000 soldiers and officials to 14 African nations, said Spain-based think tank Cuba Siglo 21. Today, hundreds of Cuban advisors continue to operate in various Latin American countries, such as Venezuela.
“The Kremlin takes advantage of all the resources at its disposal, consolidating ties with North Korea to obtain supplies and weapons. In addition, Iran contributes with its rapidly manufactured drones. I would not be surprised if Hezbollah forces were also involved,” Serrano said.
Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Havana has been playing a crucial role for Moscow in terms of diplomacy and propaganda. This prevents Russia from facing unanimous condemnation from African, Arab, and Latin American countries at the United Nations and other international forums, says Cuba Siglo 21.
In recent months, Cuba and Russia have consolidated their alliance in high-level meetings. “This relationship is strong and active in all areas: economic, military, and intelligence,” Serrano said. “However, in this alliance Russia holds a dominant role. Cuban dependence on Moscow is undeniable.”
“The involvement of young Cubans in the Ukrainian conflict was predictable,” Serrano added. “Moscow considers Havana its main player, a key player exerting influence over Venezuela, the Sao Paulo Forum and the Puebla Group, collaborating with leftist regimes in Latin America. All this is exploited by the Kremlin.”
“Russia, despite its appalling human rights violations, does not mind being accused of recruiting Cuban mercenaries. Its forces need reinforcements to recover the lost battlefield,” Serrano concluded.