Cuba is accusing Russia of trafficking Cuban citizens to fight in Ukraine

Sep 13, 2023 12:12 PM PDT
3 minute read
russia trafficking cubans

The Russian Federation Navy Admiral Gorshkov frigate arrives to Havana’s port. (ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP via Getty Images)


Officials announced they uncovered a human trafficking network in the country that was created to recruit Cubans for fighting in Ukraine.

It seems like Russia is running low on everything these days, and can’t make enough war material to continue its fight against Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin needs to get drones from Iran, nonlethal supplies from China, and he even needs to buy ammunition from North Korea (of all places).

Now, despite multiple waves of conscription drafting hundreds of thousands of Russian men and even clearing out the country’s notorious prison system, it appears he needs to get more bodies to actually fight the war in Ukraine, and he’s getting them from some surprising places. No country was more surprised than Cuba, who accused Russia of trafficking its citizens this week to recruit Cubans as soldiers for the ongoing war. 

On Sept. 3, 2023, Cuban officials announced the country had uncovered a human trafficking network in the country that was created to recruit Cubans for fighting in Ukraine. The Foreign Ministry said it began dismantling the network, which it says was based in Russia and was moving Cubans from both Cuba and Russia to the war’s front lines. 

Cuba has arrested 17 individuals it says were part of the trafficking network, but did not release their names or any other information about them. Cuba intends to prosecute the ringleaders, with sentences that range from 30 years to life and even the death penalty.  

“The ministry of the interior… 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 ministry said in a statement.

The Cuban government has announced that it is not a party to the War in Ukraine and it will take similar action against any person or body that tries to recruit Cuban citizens as soldiers in any conflict. The Russian government has not commented on Cuba’s accusation. 

“Cuba has a firm and clear historical position against the use of mercenaries… Cuba is not part of the war in Ukraine,” the Foreign ministry continued. 

Cuba is uncertain how many (if any) Cuban nationals joined the Russian forces or if the trafficking ring had any official ties to Moscow. Regional newspapers inside Russia did claim that some Cubans had joined the Russian military but how they did it is unclear. In general, Havana does support the Russian government, as the fighting in Ukraine has renewed warm relations between the former Cold War allies. 

Andrey Gurulev, a former military officer in Russia, told the Guardian that Russia is trying to expand the size of its armed forces by recruiting 140,000 more troops by the end of 2023. It was reported that Russia aimed to meet that lofty goal by attracting migrants from impoverished areas of Central Asia with the promise of citizenship and cash payments.

If casualty figures released by Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense are to be believed, Russia could be in dire need of increased manpower. As of Sept. 8, 2023, the Ukrainians claim to have eliminated more than 267,000 Russian personnel since fighting began in February 2022. It also claims to have destroyed more than 25,000 tanks, armored vehicles, trucks, and mobile artillery systems, along with hundreds of Russian military aircraft.


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