22 September 2023

Russia is recruiting hundreds of Cubans as cannon fodder for its war on Ukraine


Cuba is sending significant numbers of soldiers to Russia to fight in its war against Ukraine. Information on Cuba’s intervention has emerged from multiple sources, most notably Ukrainian ‘hacktivists’ who handed intelligence obtained from the official responsible for contract military personnel in the Russian city of Tula, Major Anton Valentinovich Perevozchikov, to InformNapalm. This provides full details on 198 Cubans and one Colombian deployed through Tula for Russian military service against Ukraine.

These 198 Cubans arrived in Russia through Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport during July and August of this year, in groups of 10 to 30 people. In most cases they were issued Cuban foreign passports in Havana just before their trip to Russia. The majority arrived on Aeroflot planes via a new direct route between Varadero in Cuba and Moscow started by the Cuban and Russian regimes in July 2023. The vast majority of the 198 are of military age. It is possible that the few older recruits are there because of their knowledge of very old Soviet weapons systems currently being deployed against Ukraine.

At least five of the Cuban men identified in the hack entered the country through Belarus on 1st July. In May, according to official Belorussian reports, Cuba and Belarus signed formal agreements ‘on the training of Cuban military personnel in the Republic of Belarus’ and the ‘promotion of military cooperation between the two countries’. This appears to be cover for the entry of Cuban military personnel to Russia to take part in the war against Ukraine.

As InformNapalm stated, ‘it is unlikely that Tula is the only Russian city where what is exposed in the investigation is happening’. In fact, there is extensive evidence from other sources of many more Cubans having been signed up in other locations. In May a Ryazan local newspaper reported on a number of Cubans signing up there. ‘Today, from the selection point for military service under contract, several citizens of the Republic of Cuba went to serve in the Russian army. According to them, the Cubans want to help our country carry out tasks in the zone of a special military operation,’ the newspaper stated.

There is evidence from the hack itself that other Cubans are serving elsewhere. For example, correspondence of the 198 Cubans signed up in Tula refers to another Cuban who went to Russia to fight, Pavel Marquito. He is not one of the Tula 198 and must have been processed in another location. Also not part of the Tula batch are two 19 year-old Cubans who complained in video messages sent from Russia that they had not understood that they were being sent to fight.

A Cuban human rights NGO, the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, is tracking 746 cases, (including the 198) and has spoken to 36 of the Cuban families involved and five of the soldiers in Russia. Cubans interviewed in Russia have spoken of the arrival of plane loads of soldiers.

Given the above and given particularly that the hack involved only one regional processing centre and only arrivals in the two months of July and August it is reasonable to assume that many thousands of Cubans are likely now serving in Russia’s military.

The Cuban regime has issued contradictory statements on the Cuban mercenary group in Russia. Its immediate reaction to InformNapalm’s revelations was to claim that the regime was victim to some shadowy human trafficking ring and that 17 people had been arrested. This mirrors the regime’s response in 1989 when they were clearly implicated in narco-trafficking. 

All this is totally implausible. As InformNaplam commented, ‘there is a very low probability that the Cuban authorities did not notice the flow of people suddenly receiving travel passports for the first time in their lives, which are issued only in the capital of Cuba. Just like the visits of Patrushev and Lavrov to Cuba, as well as the training of the Cubans in Belarus – all these events are parts of the same jigsaw puzzle.’

The regime’s official denial was later qualified by Julio Antonio Garmendía Peña, Cuban ambassador in Moscow, who told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti that, ‘We have nothing against the Cubans who only want to sign a contract and legally participate in this operation with the Russian army.’

As a totalitarian state that controls and spies on all aspects of its citizens’ lives, the idea that hundreds of Cubans could slip off to fight for Russia without it knowing is obvious nonsense. There are, in any case, two lengthy processes by which the regime authorises exit from Cuba. The first involves the removal of some individuals from the controlled database of persons specified by law as being ineligible for exit. The second involves a series of checks carried out by the police and the Ministry of Interior prior to the formal issuing of a passport by the Foreign Ministry. 

Clearly, the Cubans going to fight for Russia are too poor to afford their own plane tickets. These must have been bought by the joint operation between Cuba and Russia which identified and recruited them. The process of handling the passports of those Cubans going to Russia are one telling peculiarity, according to multiple testimonies. The Cuban authorities do not stamp their passports on exit, contrary to normal procedure. Those recruited in Cuba are accompanied by a representative of the armed forces to Varadero airport, where it is ensured that they have signed a Spanish language version of their contract. On arrival in Moscow they are met by a Cuban and a Russian official and escorted to their deployment point. They receive entry cards and their passports are then confiscated by the Cuban co-ordinator. 

The poor Cubans sent to Russia as canon fodder are in fact victims of human trafficking and deserve better. The real villains are the Cuban Regime who organised the scheme.

Cuban President Diaz-Canel affirmed ‘Cuba’s unconditional support for Russia’ during his visit to Moscow in November 2022. Putin needs troops. Cuba is delivering them. But it should bear the consequences of its actions. 

Olexandr Merezhko, President of the Foreign Relations Commission of the Ukrainian Parliament, has asked democratic states to break relations with Cuba. Thirty Ukrainian parliamentarians have urged the international community, the European Union and the Paris Club to adopt, ‘all possible response measures, aimed at ending economic cooperation with the Havana regime, in particular, the financing carried out by the European institutions’.

‘When the Russian Federation falls, so will its satellites. Today Ukraine fights not only for its own freedom, and not only for European freedom, but also for the freedom of the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America enslaved by regimes pro-Moscow,’ their statement concludes. 

But will the West back them up and take action against Cuba?

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Peter Young was formerly Head of Research at the Adam Smith Institute and is the author of “Opening a second western front against Putin: Russia’s Latin American Proxies,” published by the Henry Jackson Society.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.