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Cuban Authorities Arrest 17 in Human Trafficking Ring Linked to Russia-Ukraine War

Cuban authorities have arrested 17 individuals allegedly involved in a human trafficking ring that enticed young Cuban men to join the Russian military during the Ukraine conflict. Authorities had previously announced efforts to dismantle this network, which operated in Cuba and Russia to facilitate Cubans joining the conflict in Ukraine. 


“The Ministry of the Interior is working on the neutralisation and dismantling of a human trafficking network that operates from Russia to incorporate Cuban citizens living there, and even some from Cuba, into the military forces participating in war operations in Ukraine,” the Cuban government said. 


“As a result of the investigations, 17 people have been arrested so far, among them the internal organiser of these activities,” Cesar Rodriguez, a colonel with Cuba’s Interior Ministry, said on Thursday on a TV programme. Rodriguez did not disclose the identities of the accused individuals but mentioned that the group leader relied on two individuals residing in Cuba to recruit locals to fight in Ukraine in exchange for payments on behalf of Russia. 


Cuban prosecutor Jose Luis Reyes stated that individuals implicated in this scandal could face imprisonment for up to 30 years, life sentences, or even the death penalty. The severity and nature of their offenses will determine the specific punishment, encompassing charges such as human trafficking, fighting as mercenaries and hostile action against a foreign nation. 


Russia, which has had strong political ties with communist-run Cuba since the Cuban revolution of 1959, has historically served as a significant refuge for Cuban migrants looking to escape economic hardships in their homeland. Notably, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree last year that streamlined the citizenship process for foreigners enlisting in the Russian military. 


While Cuba is a close ally of Russia, it has made it clear in its official statement that "it does not form part of the conflict in Ukraine." The Russian government has not commented on the allegations.  


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