Cuba has arrested 17 people in connection with what its government says is a network recruiting its citizens to fight in Russia’s war in Ukraine, according to a Cuban government official.
The head of Cuba’s criminal investigation department, César Rodriguez, said late Thursday on Canal Caribe, a state-run news channel, that one of the people arrested was responsible for organizing efforts to recruit inside Cuba.
This week, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the government had begun criminal proceedings against a “human trafficking network” that was recruiting people to fight in Ukraine. The ministry has not said how many people were affected, or whether any had traveled to Russia or Ukraine.
The accusations have not been independently verified. Russia has not commented on the issue.
None of the people arrested have been named. The recruiters were looking for Cuban citizens interested in military action, especially those with “antisocial behavior” and a criminal record, Mr. Rodriguez said.
Cuba is “not part of the war in Ukraine,” the foreign ministry’s statement said.
Cuba has been a close ally of Russia since the Cuban Revolution in 1959. The country’s president, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia have pledged to strengthen their countries’ relationship.
U.S. officials have said that Russia has struggled to attract recruits for its war effort. Russia’s defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, said late last year that the Russian Army needed to increase from 1.15 million service members to 1.5 million.
The events being investigated could constitute a crime of mercenarism, José Luis Reyes, the head of Cuba’s criminal prosecution department, said on the television program, adding that punishment could include 30 years to life in prison or the death penalty.
Valeriya Safronova contributed reporting.