Cuba arrests 17 for allegedly helping recruit citizens to fight for Russia in Ukraine

Cuban authorities have arrested 17 people in connection with what they described as a network to recruit Cuban nationals to fight for Russia in Ukraine.

The head of criminal investigations for Cuba’s Interior Ministry, César Rodriguez, said late Thursday on state media that at least three of the 17 people arrested are part of recruitment efforts inside the island country.

The official didn’t identify the alleged members of the network but said they had previous criminal records. Some families started speaking up about the case, and at least one mother said that her son was promised a job in construction in Russia.

Cuba’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said on Monday that the government had detected a network operating from Russia to recruit Cuban citizens living both in Russia and in Cuba to fight in Ukraine, and it said the authorities were working “to neutralize and dismantle” the network, but it gave no details.

“Cuba is not part of the war in Ukraine,” the ministry said in a news release.

WATCH | Russia, Cuba rekindling alliance amid war in Ukraine: 

Russia and Cuba rekindling alliance as Ukraine war continues

The Ukraine war is resurrecting a former Cold War alliance between an increasingly isolated Russia and a desperate Cuba. Cuban soldiers have also been spotted fighting alongside Russian and Wagner Group troops in Ukraine. Some fear Russia may rekindle old tactics by placing arms in Cuba.

Cuba and Russia are political allies, and Cubans do not require a visa to travel to Russia. Many go there to study or to work.

Prosecutor José Luis Reyes told state TV that suspects 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.

‘They were all deceived’

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

In her home in Havana, she said that her son and other Cubans travelled to Russia at the end of July after being promised a construction job. “They were all deceived,” she said.

Vinent showed reporters photos of her son on her cellphone, 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 help his family financially, 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.”

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