Cuban authorities have arrested 17 people for their involvement in a network that recruited Cuban nationals to fight for Russia in Ukraine.
César Rodríguez, the head of criminal investigations for Cuba’s Interior Ministry, stated on state media that at least three of those arrested are involved in recruiting within Cuba.
The alleged network members have previous criminal records, although their identities remain undisclosed. Families of the arrested individuals have started speaking up about the case, with at least one mother reporting that her son was promised a job in construction in Russia.
Cuba’s Foreign Ministry announced on Monday that it had detected a network operating from Russia to recruit citizens from both Cuba and Russia to fight in Ukraine.
The government is currently working to neutralize and dismantle the network, but has not provided any further details.
The Foreign Ministry emphasized that Cuba is not a participant in the war in Ukraine, and that this network is an independent operation.
Cuba and Russia have a political alliance, and Cubans do not require visas to travel to Russia. Many Cuban citizens travel there for work or education.
However, in May 2023, a newspaper in the Russian region of Ryazan reported that “several citizens of the Cuba Republic” had signed up to join the army and help Russia “complete tasks in the special military operation zone.”
Some of them even aspired to become Russian citizens.
Prosecutor José Luis Reyes in Havana stated that the suspects are being investigated for various crimes, including being a mercenary or recruiting mercenaries.
They could face sentences of up to 30 years or life in prison, or even the death penalty.
Marilin Vinent, a Cuban mother, claimed on Friday that her son Dannys Castillo, 27, is one of the Cubans recruited in Russia.
She said that her son and other Cubans traveled to Russia at the end of July after being promised work in construction.
Her son had accepted the offer to go to Russia to help the family financially during an economic crisis in Cuba. She showed reporters photos of her son dressed in military fatigues and expressed her concern for his safety.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement expressing deep concern that young Cubans may have been deceived and recruited to fight for Russia in Ukraine. They continue to monitor the situation closely.
Russian law allows foreign nationals to enlist in its army after signing a contract with the Defence Ministry.
Since September 2022, foreigners who have served in the Russian army for at least one year are allowed to apply for Russian citizenship in a simplified procedure without obtaining a residency permit first. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin confirmed that the city was setting up “infrastructure to assist the Russian Defense Ministry in facilitating the enlistment of foreign nationals” in the capital’s main government office for migrants.
Last month, Russian media reported cases of authorities refusing to accept citizenship applications from Tajik nationals until they sign a contract with the Defence Ministry and enlist in the army.
The British Defence Ministry also noted that there have been online ads seeking recruits for the Russian army in Armenia and Kazakhstan.
They stated that “exploiting foreign nationals allows the Kremlin to acquire additional personnel for its war effort in the face of mounting casualties.”