Cuban Mercenaries Enlist With Russian Forces In Ukraine Conflict

( – In early September, the government of Cuba announced that 17 people were arrested in connection to a human trafficking ring recruiting young Cubans to fight for Russia. According to Politico, the news raises the question of whether Cuba’s support for the Russian invasion is beginning to wane.

While formally neutral on the war, Havana has made no secret of siding with the Kremlin in what it describes as Russia’s clash with the “Yankee empire.” The Cuban regime remains dependent on Moscow for aid and cheap fuel but has little to offer Russia in return other than loyalty.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the two countries have exchanged visits by top officials and critics have warned that Cuba might send troops to aid Russia in the fight.

In May, Cuba’s military attaché visited Belarus where training the Cuban military was on the agenda. Several weeks later, Cuba’s defense minister traveled to Moscow to discuss technical military projects.

However, as yet, there has been no evidence of Cuba’s direct involvement in Ukraine.

Cuba’s crackdown on recruiting young men to fight in Russia followed the posting of an interview on YouTube in late August featuring two 19-year-olds who claimed to have been lured to Russia ostensibly to work in construction only to end up in Ukraine. The two Cuban teens claimed to have been beaten and kept captive.

The Cuban Foreign Ministry vowed to act against the efforts to lure Cubans into Russia’s war, saying that Cuba is “not a part of the conflict in Ukraine.”

Christopher Sabatini, a senior Latin America fellow at Chatham House told Politico that Havana’s change in tone suggests that backchannel recruitment of Cubans has “hit a nerve.”

He said while Cuba fought alongside the Soviet Union in places like Angola for “ideological reasons,” the backchannel recruitment has a “transactional quality that goes against decades of friendship.”

But with Russia suffering heavy losses in the war, Moscow needs “cannon fodder,” according to Pavel Luzin of the Center for European Policy Analysis. He told Politico that most of Russia’s foreign recruits are from Africa and Central Asia, including Syria and Afghanistan.

While it isn’t clear just how many foreigners have joined Russia’s fight, Luzin said the limited numbers are only to boost Moscow’s narrative that its war in Ukraine has international support.

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