Russian Human Trafficking Ring Allegedly Forcing Cubans Into Putin’s War Machine

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Authorities in Cuba say they have discovered a human trafficking network forcing Cubans to join the Russian military and fight in Ukraine.

In a statement, the foreign ministry claimed that the network operates from inside Russia, targeting Cubans who already live there as well as others who live in Cuba. Cuba’s interior ministry is now “working to neutralize and dismantle” the trafficking ring, the statement added.

It’s not clear how many people had been targeted by the operation before it was detected, though Cuba’s foreign ministry said some attempts to force people into the Russian military “have been neutralized and criminal proceedings have been initiated against those involved in these activities.”

The statement also claimed that Cuba’s enemies are “promoting distorted information that seeks to tarnish the country’s image” by portraying it as an accomplice in the recruitment.

“Cuba is not part of the war in Ukraine,” the foreign ministry said. “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 Russian government has yet to comment on Cuba’s allegations, though previous reports in the Russian media have documented Cubans joining Moscow’s armed forces during the war in Ukraine.

In May, the Ryazan Vedomosti newspaper reported that “several” Cubans had signed up for contracts with the Russian armed forces and been sent to the battlefield. “According to them, the Cubans want to help our country carry out tasks in the zone of a special military operation, and some of them would like to become citizens of Russia in the future,” the newspaper claimed.

It is not clear if those individuals were affected by the alleged trafficking operation.

Last year, Russia announced that it wanted to dramatically increase the size of its military by about 30 percent to 1.5 million combat personnel. The ambitious target can only have been made more difficult by ongoing losses in the war against Ukraine—the scale of which cannot be accurately verified owing to Kremlin secrecy around casualty figures.

On Sunday, a British intelligence report said that as of late June, “Russia has been appealing to citizens of neighboring countries with recruitment adverts for individuals to fight in Ukraine.” Online adverts had been spotted in Armenia and Kazakhstan offering initial payments of over $5,000 in initial payments and salaries worth around $2,000, the report said.

It also claimed central Asian migrants—of which there are at least six million in Russia—are being targeted in recruitment efforts offering fast-tracked citizenship as part of the deal. The report said it was likely that such groups are now being focused on by Russian recruitment drives in order to avoid more unpopular domestic mobilization orders before the 2024 Russian presidential election.

“Exploiting foreign nationals allows the Kremlin to acquire additional personnel for its war effort in the face of mounting casualties,” the report said.

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