Cuba uncovers network trafficking Cubans to fight for Russia in Ukraine

Cuba says it has no part in war in Ukraine and would ‘act vigorously’ against those trafficking Cubans as fighters.

A Cuban flag hangs at the foreign relations ministry in Havana, Cuba in 2016 [File: Desmond Boylan/AP Photo]

Cuba has uncovered a human trafficking ring that has coerced Cuban citizens to fight for Russia in the war in Ukraine, its foreign ministry said, adding that authorities were working to “neutralize and dismantle” the network.

The ministry’s statement on Monday gave few details but noted the trafficking ring was operating both in the Caribbean island nation and within Russia.

“The Ministry of the Interior detected and is working on the neutralization and dismantling of a human trafficking network that operates from Russia to incorporate Cuban citizens living there, and even some from Cuba, into the military forces participating in war operations in Ukraine,” the statement said.

“Cuba has a firm and clear historical position against mercenarism and plays an active role in the United Nations in repudiation of this practice,” the ministry added, according to an unofficial translation.

“Cuba is not part of the war in Ukraine. It is acting and will act vigorously against whoever, from the national territory, participates in any form of human trafficking for the purposes of recruitment of mercenarism so that Cuban citizens use weapons against any country.”

The Russian government has not commented on the allegations.

Honor guards hold a Russian and a Cuban flag during a wreath-laying ceremony with Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (not pictured) at the Jose Marti monument in Havana, Cuba, October 3, 2019. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Honour guards hold Russian and Cuban flags in Havana, Cuba, in 2019 [File: Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters]

In late May, a Russian newspaper in Ryazan city reported that several Cuban citizens had signed contracts with Russia’s armed forces and had been shipped to Ukraine in return for Russian citizenship.

It was not immediately clear if the Cuban foreign ministry statement was associated with the Ryazan report.

Russia last year announced a plan to boost the size of its armed forces by more than 30 percent to 1.5 million combat personnel, a lofty goal made harder by Russia’s heavy but undisclosed casualties in the 18-month war in Ukraine.

Cuba also said in the statement that it had already begun prosecuting cases in which its citizens had been coerced into fighting in Ukraine.

“Attempts of this nature have been neutralized and criminal proceedings have been initiated against people involved in these activities,” according to the statement.

Al Jazeera reported last year that the Russian government, through the Wagner mercenary force, had recruited Syrians to fight alongside Russian troops in Ukraine. Thousands across war-torn Syria had reportedly expressed an interest in signing up.

In June, it was reported that an Iraqi citizen was killed fighting with Russia’s Wagner mercenary force in Ukraine.

The deceased, Abbas Abuthar Witwit, was recruited from a prison in Russia with the promise that his sentence would be commuted following his service in Ukraine.

According to court papers seen by the Reuters news agency at the time, Witwit had been sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison on drug charges in July 2021 by a court in the Russian city of Kazan.

Witwit was a first-year student at a technical university in Russia at the time of his conviction.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies