Cuba says human traffickers luring citizens to Russia’s war on Ukraine


Cuba has identified a human trafficking network originating in Russia that has been recruiting Cuban citizens to fight on behalf of Russia in Ukraine, the Cuban Ministry of Interior said.

The government said it already detected and neutralized attempts at such recruitment, targeting citizens residing in both Russia and Cuba, and has initiated criminal proceedings against those involved, but did not offer details.

“Cuba has a firm and clear historical position against mercenarism,” Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said in a statement on Monday.

Russia has been struggling to shore up its army with recruits since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a mobilization last fall — a declaration that pushed thousands to flee or hide. Since then, a tough law that makes evading conscription more difficult has been approved, allowing electronic military summonses and travel bans on those drafted.

Both Russia and Ukraine keep their casualty numbers a secret, but a leaked U.S. intelligence assessment from February that surfaced online said U.S. officials believed with “low confidence” that between 35,000 to 42,500 Russian soldiers had been killed by then, and at least 150,500 wounded. Ukraine’s estimated dead were half, and somewhere around 110,000 injured.

In December, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said he expected the Russian military to grow by 30 percent, to 1.5 million service members, including up to nearly 700,000 contract soldiers.

In May, a local Russian newspaper from Ryazan city reported that “several” Cuban citizens had volunteered as contract soldiers in the Russian army, and some hoped to become Russian citizens in exchange for their service.

“Cuba is not part of the war in Ukraine,” Rodriguez said in his statement. “It is acting, and it will firmly act against those who within the national territory participate in any form of human trafficking for mercenarism or recruitment purposes so that Cuban citizens may raise weapons against any country.”

The Wagner Group — a mercenary outfit that had deployed tens of thousands of fighters to Ukraine, many recruited in Russian prisons — threw Russia’s military leadership into disarray earlier this summer, withdrawing from the battlefield and staging a short-lived mutiny against the Kremlin. The situation only added to Russia’s conscription struggles.

Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.


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