Cuban authorities said they have uncovered a human trafficking ring operated from Russia that recruits Cuban citizens to fight alongside its military forces in Ukraine.
The announcement, made late Monday by Cuba’s foreign ministry, comes days after local media in Miami reported on Cubans being taken to Russia to fight. The Miami affiliate of Telemundo, part of NBC Universal, interviewed two 19 year-old Cubans who said they were duped into going to Russia. They said a recruiter offered each a job in construction in exchange for $2,200, a Russian passport and the possibility of taking their families to Russia in the future.
“We don’t know what to do anymore,” one of them said, adding they were told to be ready at 3:30 a.m. because they would be taken to Ukraine.
In a press release, Cuba’s foreign ministry said it “has detected and it is working to neutralize and dismantle a human trafficking network that operates from Russia in order to incorporate Cuban citizens living there and even some living in Cuba, into the military forces that participate in military operations in Ukraine.”
“Attempts of this nature have been neutralized and criminal proceedings have been initiated against those involved I these activities,” the press release also stated.
The Kremlin has not commented on the Cuba’s announcement.
Russia announced plans last year to boost the size of its armed forces by more than 30% to 1.5 million combat personnel.
The ministry’s press release also said “Cuba’s enemies are promoting distorted information that seeks to tarnish the country’s image and present it as an accomplice” of these actions.
The statement appeared to be in response to claims made in some of Miami’s media that the two countries had entered into an agreement to hire Cuban mercenaries in exchange for support the communist government has been receiving from Russia.
Cuba and Russia’s strong relationship dates back to the Cold War. Cuba has been roiled in an economic crisis for the past three years and Russia has been supplying it with food and oil.
Russia, which does not require visas for people from Cuba, is a popular destination for Cubans who travel there to purchase merchandise to resell in Cuba.
“Cuba is not part of the war in Ukraine” the ministry’s statement said.
The island’s government has defended Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the past and blamed the U.S. and NATO for the conflict.