Cuba arrests 17 for ‘recruiting people to fight for Russia in Ukraine’

Marilin Vinent holds up a photo of her son Dannys Castillo dressed in military fatigues (Picture: AP)

Cuban authorities have arrested 17 people over a network to recruit Cubans to fight for Russia in Ukraine.

The head of criminal investigations for Cuba’s interior ministry, Cesar Rodriguez, said at least three of the 17 arrested are part of recruitment efforts.

He did not identify the alleged members of the network but said they had previous criminal records.

Some families started speaking up about the case on Friday, and at least one mother said that her son was promised a job in construction in Russia.

Cuba’s foreign ministry said they had detected a network operating from Russia to recruit Cuban citizens living both in Russia and in Cuba to fight in Ukraine.

They said authorities were working ‘to neutralise and dismantle’ the network.

‘Cuba is not part of the war in Ukraine,’ the foreign ministry said in a news release.

Cuba and Russia are political allies and Cubans do not require a visa to travel to Russia.

Marilin said that her son and other Cubans traveled at the end of July to Russia after being promised work in a construction job (Picture: AP)

In May 2023, a newspaper in the Russian region of Ryazan, about 100 miles southeast of Moscow, reported from a military enlistment office there that ‘several citizens of the Cuba Republic’ signed up to join the army.

The Ryazanskiye Vedomosti newspaper quoted some Cubans as saying they were there to help Russia ‘complete tasks in the special military operation zone’.

It also said ‘some of them in the future would like to become Russian citizens’.

In Havana, prosecutor Jose Luis Reyes told state TV that people are being investigated for crimes including being a mercenary or recruiting mercenaries, and could face sentences of up to 30 years or life in prison, or even the death penalty.

Marilin Vinent, 60, said Friday that her son Dannys Castillo, 27, is one of the Cubans recruited in Russia.

Authorities were working ‘to neutralise and dismantle’ the network (Picture: AFP)

At her home in Havana, she said her son and other Cubans travelled at the end of July to Russia after being promised work in a construction job.

‘They were all deceived,’ she said.

She showed reporters photos of her son on her phone, including some of him dressed in military fatigues.

She said that her son told her he had accepted the offer to go to Russia because he wanted to economically help the family, as the island is suffering an economic crisis, with people facing shortages of some products.

‘I don’t know if my son is alive. We don’t know anything,’ she said. ‘What I would like is to talk to him.’

Russian law allows foreign nationals to enlist in its army, after signing a contract with the defence ministry.

Since September 2022, foreigners who have served in the Russian army for at least one year are allowed to apply for Russian citizenship in a simplified procedure, without obtaining a residency permit first.

Last month Russian media reported cases of authorities refusing to accept citizenship applications from Tajik nationals until they sign a contract with the defence ministry and enlist in the army.

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