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Russia recruited hundreds of Cubans to fight against Ukraine

Facing mounting losses in Ukraine, Russia has recruited hundreds of Cuban nationals by offering lucrative salaries and prospects of Russian citizenship to bolster its invasion forces.
informal channels facilitate cuban enlistment russian military against ukraine nationals wearing uniform 2023 screenshot from video x/pstyle0ne1 f73la_owyaaxqiu
Cuban nationals wearing Russian military uniform. 2023. Screenshot from a video, via X/PStyle0ne1
Russia recruited hundreds of Cubans to fight against Ukraine

Research by the BBC has confirmed that Russia has likely been recruiting Cuban nationals to fight in its army during the invasion of Ukraine. In September and October 2023, passport details of some 200 Cubans who allegedly joined the Russian military were leaked online by a pro-Ukrainian OSINT group called Inform Napalm.

Desperate for more manpower after losing soldiers in Ukraine, Russia recruits foreign mercenaries or deceives foreign civilians into combat roles by promising well-paid non-combat positions. This recruitment drive extends globally, targeting economically challenged nations like Cuba, Nepal, and Central Asian countries, as part of Russia’s broader effort to bolster its forces.

According to Inform Napalm, the group Cyber Resistance obtained the leaked data by hacking the emails of a Russian military recruitment officer based in Tula, south of Moscow. BBC’s search on Facebook found 31 accounts matching names from the leak, with users posting photos of themselves wearing Russian military uniforms or at Russian locations.

Since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in 2022, Russia has suffered staggering losses, with one Ukrainian estimate putting the number of Russian troops killed or wounded at 500,000. Recruiting foreigners helps Russia offset these casualties while avoiding the risks of forced mobilization among its own population.

For Cuban recruits, lucrative contracts offering monthly payments around $2,000 – a huge sum compared to Cuba’s average $35 monthly wage – are a major incentive amid the island’s economic crisis. The promise of expedited Russian citizenship also appeals, allowing visa-free travel to over 100 countries.

BBC says an unnamed local media outlet in the city of Ryazan, near Moscow, appeared to corroborate accounts of Cuban enlistment last year, sharing photos of new recruits signing army contracts who wanted “to help achieve the objectives of the special military operation” and potentially obtain Russian citizenship.

Indian victims of Russia’s job scams forced to fight against Ukraine, families desperate to return them

While definitive numbers are difficult to obtain, Ukraine’s envoy for Latin America Ruslan Spirin estimated around 400 Cubans had joined Russian forces, in his interview with WSJ in February. One Cuban officer in Russia, Lázaro Gonzalez, claimed 90 were serving under his command in occupied areas of eastern Ukraine, according to BBC

BBC says Cuban authorities have issued conflicting statements, first claiming to arrest recruiters before the ambassador to Russia said Havana had no issue with Cubans legally signing contracts with the Russian military – contradicting the foreign minister’s stance against Cuban involvement.

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