Cubans lured by Russian military with high salaries and passports

Russia is likely recruiting Cuban nationals to fight with its forces in Ukraine, a BBC investigation has found.

In September and October 2023, passport details of more than 200 Cubans who allegedly joined the Russian military were leaked online by a pro-Ukrainian platform called InformNapalm.

The website said the passport details were obtained by hacking the email of a Russian military recruitment official in Tula, south of Moscow.

A search on Facebook found that 31 of the names mentioned in the Ukrainian leak matched accounts whose owners appeared to be in Russia or connected to the Russian military.

For example, some people post photos of themselves in Russian military uniforms, or in places with Russian road signs or Russian license plates. Some cite Russia as their current place of residence.

Many of these Facebook users began posting Russia-related content in August 2023, indicating when they arrived in Russia.

Since launching a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia has suffered heavy losses on the battlefield. A BBC investigation identified the names of more than 50,000 Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine, but the real number is likely much higher. Ukraine’s own estimates put the number of Russian soldiers killed or injured in the war at 500,000.

Recruiting foreigners to offset some of the losses would also help the Kremlin avoid the risks posed by trying to mobilize Russians by force. When Russia declared partial mobilization in 2022, hundreds of thousands of people left the country.

Bringing Cubans to Russia is relatively easy. The two countries have been allies since the Cold War, and Cubans do not need a visa to travel to Russia, and direct flights to Moscow make travel easier.

Meanwhile, lucrative military contracts offered by Russia are appealing to Cuban men desperate to escape the worsening economic crisis on the U.S.-sanctioned island.

Documents leaked online and media reports suggest the Cuban man is being offered around $2,000 (about £1,600) a month, compared to a Cuban man whose average monthly salary is less than $35 (about £28). That’s a huge amount for.

The promise of Russian citizenship may also tempt some Cubans.

Favorable pay and Russian passports make enlistment attractive for Cubans

Cubans are attracted to high pay and Russian passports: this man’s face has been blurred to protect his identity [Facebook]

Since the start of the war against Ukraine, Moscow has taken steps to make it significantly easier for foreigners who have spent time in the army to obtain Russian citizenship, with the BBC reporting that some Cuban fighters will receive Russian passports within months. of the sign-up confirmed social media posts suggesting that it did.

Russian passport holders are allowed visa-free travel to 117 destinations, while Cuban passport holders are limited to 61 destinations.

Local media in the city of Ryazan, near Moscow, appeared to support this theory last year by publishing photos of Cuban recruits signing contracts with the Russian military.

The newspaper added that the Cubans wanted to “help achieve the objectives of our special military operations” and that “some of them would like to become Russian citizens in the future.”

However, reliable estimates of the number of Cubans who joined Russian forces are difficult to find.

Ruslan Spirin, Ukraine’s diplomatic envoy for Latin America and the Caribbean, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that the number was 400.

Lazaro Gonzalez, one of the Cuban officers living in Russia, told an exiled opposition radio station that 90 Cubans were serving under his command.

He said the troops would likely be deployed to already occupied areas in eastern Ukraine rather than front-line positions.

“As the Russian military is occupying areas of Ukraine, what we Cubans are doing is supporting the military in those cities and occupied areas,” Gonzalez told a Miami-based radio station. That’s all.”

Last year, Marilyn Vinent showed a photo of her son Danny wearing Russian-made work clothes and said he went to Russia for construction work.Last year, Marilyn Vinent showed a photo of her son Danny wearing Russian-made work clothes and said he went to Russia for construction work.

Last year, Marilyn Vinent showed a photo of her son Danny in uniform and said he went to Russia to work in construction. [REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini ]

According to numerous reports, Cubans often join the Russian military after coming into contact with recruiters on social media, but not all of them are aware of the true nature of the job for which they are being recruited. Apparently not.

Last year, a popular Cuban YouTube content creator told the story of two 19-year-olds from Cuba who claim they were offered construction jobs in Russia but were instead sent to the front lines in Ukraine.

Their case mirrors the experiences of other foreigners who told the BBC they were lured to Russia by the promise of higher pay, only to end up on the battlefield.

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Cuban authorities have issued contradictory statements regarding the involvement of their citizens in the Ukraine war.

In September 2023, following a series of reports about Cubans fighting in Ukraine, Havana authorities announced the arrest of 17 people involved in recruiting Cubans.

But shortly afterward, Julio Antonio Garmendia Peña, Cuba’s ambassador to Russia, said the government was against Cubans who wanted to “just sign the contract and legally participate in this operation with the Russian military.” He said he had nothing against it.

Hours later, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla said Havana opposed “the participation of the Cuban people in any kind of conflict.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez shake hands during a meeting in Havana, April 20, 2023.Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez shake hands during a meeting in Havana, April 20, 2023.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Havana last year. [RAMON ESPINOSA/AFP]

Meanwhile, Ukrainian authorities have said that the number of foreign fighters joining the Russian army has increased in recent months, and that foreigners are also among the soldiers captured by Ukrainian forces on the battlefield.

Petro Yatsenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s POW Agency, told the BBC that many of the prisoners were from low-income countries such as Cuba, India and Nepal, as well as African and Central Asian countries.

“Every week, we take up to five prisoners from foreign countries on the front lines,” he said.

He added that their low skill as fighters means their lifespan on the battlefield is hours rather than days.

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