By Nelson Acosta
HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuban authorities said they had arrested 17 people on charges of a gang of human traffickers who allegedly lured young Cuban men to serve in the Russian army amid the conflict in Ukraine.
Cuba announced earlier this week that authorities are working to “neutralize and dismantle” the network, which it said operated on Cuban territory as well as in Russia.
“As a result of the investigation, 17 people have been arrested so far, including the internal organizer of these activities,” Cesar Rodriguez, colonel at the Cuban Interior Ministry, said in a TV program late Thursday.
Rodriguez did not name any of those accused of participating in the ring, but said the group’s leader relied on two people living on the island to recruit Cubans to fight in Ukraine on behalf of Russia.
Prosecutor Jose Luis Reyes said those involved in the scandal could face up to 30 years in prison, life imprisonment or the death penalty, depending on the severity and type of crimes, which range from human trafficking, fighting as a mercenary and hostile behavior. action against a foreign state.
Russia, which maintains strong political ties to Communist-run Cuba, has long been a major destination for Cuban migrants seeking to escape domestic economic stagnation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree last year allowing foreigners who apply for service in the Russian military to obtain citizenship through an accelerated procedure.
Cuba says it has no part in the war in Ukraine and rejects the use of its citizens as mercenaries.
(Reporting by Nelson Acosta; editing by Kim Coghill)