Cuban authorities said they arrested 17 people in connection to a human-trafficking ring that allegedly coaxed young Cuban men to fight for Russia against Ukraine.
Earlier this week, the Cuban foreign ministry exposed a Russian trafficking operation used to entice Cubans into the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine. Cuba condemned the recruitment racket and the interior ministry said authorities were working to “neutralize and dismantle” the network.
On Thursday evening, César Rodríguez, a colonel with Cuba’s interior ministry, said 17 people had been arrested, including the “internal organizer” of the ring, reported Reuters.
Rodriguez said the group leader relied on two people living on the island to recruit Cubans to fight for hire on behalf of Russia, but did not name any of the suspects.
Those involved in the network risk up to 30 years in prison, a life sentence or the death penalty, according to prosecutor Jose Luis Reyes, depending on the severity of the crimes.
Russia and Cuba share a history of communism and have historically been allies. In July, Cuba came under fire after the country vehemently opposed certain wording condemning Russia in a joint EU-Latin America statement on Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine.
The Kremlin has been scrambling for new military recruits as its full-scale invasion of Ukraine stalls on multiple fronts. It raised the military draft age to 30 years in July.
On Monday, Cuba denounced the trafficking ring, underlining that the country is “not part of the war conflict in Ukraine,” and that it does not want to look “complicit in these actions.”