Recent investigations by BBC Monitoring reveal a concerning trend: Russia appears to be actively recruiting Cuban nationals to join its forces, potentially for deployment in Ukraine.

In September and October of 2023, passport details of over 200 Cubans purportedly enlisted in the Russian army were leaked online by the pro-Ukrainian platform InformNapalm. These details were allegedly obtained through email hacks targeting a Russian military recruitment officer in Tula, near Moscow.

A subsequent Facebook search found that 31 individuals mentioned in the leaked passports had accounts seemingly tied to Russia or the Russian military. Some had posted pictures donning Russian military attire or in locations identifiable by Russian signage or number plates.

With Russia suffering significant casualties in the Ukrainian conflict, estimated at over 50,000 troops by a BBC investigation, recruiting foreigners could help offset losses and circumvent challenges associated with mobilizing Russian citizens forcefully.

Cubans, enticed by generous financial incentives and the prospect of Russian citizenship, appear to be answering the call. Reports suggest that Cuban recruits are offered monthly payments nearing $2,000—a substantial sum considering the dire economic situation on the island. Moreover, the promise of Russian citizenship, easily attainable after military service, further sweetens the deal.

Obtaining Russian citizenship is particularly appealing, as it grants access to 117 visa-free destinations, compared to the limited 61 destinations accessible to Cuban passport holders.

While estimates vary, indications point to a significant number of Cubans joining the Russian ranks. Reports from Ukraine's diplomatic envoy for Latin America and the Caribbean suggest around 400 Cuban recruits, while a Cuban officer in Russia mentioned a contingent of 90 under his command, likely to be deployed in occupied parts of eastern Ukraine.

However, concerns arise over the recruitment process. Some Cubans reportedly unaware of the true nature of the job, claim to have been misled by promises of construction work in Russia. This echoes similar experiences of foreigners recruited through social media who later find themselves on the battlefield.

Amid conflicting statements from Cuban authorities, including arrests related to recruitment and contradictory remarks on citizen involvement in conflicts, the situation remains complex. Meanwhile, Ukrainian authorities note an uptick in foreign fighters, including Cubans, captured on the frontline, with many lacking combat skills and facing perilously short life expectancies in battle. Photo by Vyacheslav Argenberg, Wikimedia commons.