CubaBrief: Why Havana is bothering to cover up its support for Moscow’s war in Ukraine

Cuban troops fighting for Russia in Ukraine.

Charles Anderson Dana, the long-time editor of the New York Sun is credited with the maxim, “If a dog bites a man it is not news, but if a man bites a dog it is.” The Castro regime is trying to conceal its military presence in Ukraine and implicitly criticizing Moscow, or at least that is how some in the media have spun it.

The Castro regime on September 7, 2023 “announced the arrest of 17 people on charges related to a network recruiting Cuban citizens to fight in Russia’s war in Ukraine, according to a Cuban government official,” and Havana claimed that it “has no role in the war in Ukraine and rejects the use of its citizens as fighters for Moscow.

Chris Simmons

This claim does not hold up to scrutiny, but many are falling for the false narrative. However some have seen through Havana’s smoke screen. National Public Radio’s Leila Fadel interviewed Chris Simmons, an expert in Cuban spycraft, on September 6, 2023 about Cuba charging that Cubans were being trafficked to fight in Ukraine.

FADEL: So what’s your sense of why Cuba is making this accusation so publicly?

SIMMONS: I think the easy – short explanation is because they got caught, once again. This is just the latest in a long series of criminal enterprises run by the Cuban government. And any time they’ve gotten caught, historically, their first act is to deny it and then imprison some individuals as proof that they had no knowledge.

FADEL: So really covering their tracks, in your view?

SIMMONS: Correct. And this has been – this type of endeavor has been going on for about 60 years, starting with terrorist support and then them serving as the proxies for intelligence efforts on behalf of Russia and others, drug trafficking. So it’s just – it’s institutionalized criminal enterprise by the Havana government.

FADEL: Now, Cuba has made it very publicly clear, at least tried to say, that they have nothing to do with the war in Ukraine, that they had nothing to do with these recruits of Cubans to go fight in the war. Is that about placating the U.S. and telling the U.S., we’re not involved?

SIMMONS: It goes back to the – their deniability. Cuba is a police state, and they proudly boast that. A million Cuban residents are part of what’s called the Committees and Defense of the Revolution, which is essentially a neighborhood snitch program. So the idea that someone could be running a mercenary ring without the government’s knowledge is ludicrous. It’s absolutely impossible for major criminal enterprises to exist without the Cuban government’s knowledge and involvement.

FADEL: Does Cuba need Russia? I mean, will this impact their relationship? I mean, this is a relatively isolated place. It’s one of the few remaining communist countries. It’s facing its worst economic crisis in decades.

SIMMONS: They absolutely do need Russia. The Cuban economy remains devastated, and the Russians have been their biggest and most generous supporter. And now, unlike the Cold War, they have a chance to play Russian aid off against Chinese aid. So they’re in a very strong economic and political position, and they absolutely need Russia.

FADEL: Will this impact their relationship, though, publicly accusing Russia of this?

SIMMONS: The – I think there’ll be some short-term implications. But long term, it won’t have any effect at all.

On September 8, 2023 a group of Ukrainian legislators charged Havana with supplying mercenaries for the Russian military’s war in Ukraine.  “We, people’s deputies of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, are deeply concerned about the presence and participation of forces and mercenaries loyal to the dictatorship in the Republic of Cuba in the genocidal invasion of the territory of Ukraine,” their statement read. These allegations were based on a trove of recently leaked documents showing the presence of Cuban conscripts in the Russian military. 

Cuban soldiers in the Russian military.

The Castro regime has a track record of publicly backing Soviet imperial ventures into Czechoslovakia (1968) and Afghanistan (1979), and of Cuban troops fighting alongside their Russian allies in Ethiopia in the 1970s through the 1980s. Their support for the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine is not a surprise, and is well documented. In addition to the visible presence of Cuban soldiers fighting in Ukraine to back Moscow’s illegal war, and the statements made by young Cubans shipped abroad there are high profile actions taken by Havana to support Moscow, and undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty. Below is an abridged overview.

  • On October 12, 2022 at the UN General Assembly Cuba was one of the 35 countries that abstained, and its ally Nicaragua was one of the 5 that voted against a resolution condemning the Russian Federation’s annexation of four Eastern Ukraine regions.

  • On September 16, 2022 Cuba was one of seven countries voting “no” at the UN General Assembly together with Belarus, Eritrea, Nicaragua, North Korea, Syria, and Russia. This “no” vote was to silence Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky from delivering a pre-recorded address at the UN General Assembly.

  • On September 15, 2022 “Russian top propagandist Vladimir Solovyov urged for the establishment of an international coalition with countries” that included Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, North Korea, Syria, Serbia, and Venezuela for its war against Ukraine.

  • On April 7, 2022 Cuba, Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Syria, and Vietnam, were among those who voted against suspending Russia from the UN Human Rights Council ( 93 voted to suspend, 24 against, and 58 abstentions.)

  • On March 2, 2022 Cuba and Nicaragua abstained from the vote condemning the Russian invasion at the United Nations General Assembly. ( 141 votes to condemn the invasion, 5 against and 35 abstentions).

  • Euronews reported on February 24, 2022 that “only Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Syria supported the Russian recognition of independence for the occupied regions in Luhansk and Donetsk.”

  • The Cuban government is spreading Russian propaganda both domestically and internationally defending Putin’s invasion, and repeating Moscow’s talking points.

  • Cubans dissenting from this official line on the island have been arrested.

  • Cuba has taken part in Russia’s International Military Exercises that in 2022 were held in Venezuela and Iran.

Beyond the explanation offered by Mr. Simmons in the above quoted NPR excerpt there is another reason that has gone unmentioned. Until now the European Union and its member states have looked the other way at the above actions taken by Havana since February 2022, but this past summer when a high ranking EU official reminded Cuban officials of Europe’s investments in the island.

The European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, stated in Havana on May 25, 2023, that the 27-member bloc remained Cuba’s biggest trading partner and one devoted to “mutual respect” despite Havana’s increasing overtures toward Russia. According to Borrell, “it is clear that we are much more important [in terms of trade] than other partners such as Russia and China.” He said that the EU accounted for about one-third of the island’s foreign trade, “versus 8% by China or 8% by Russia,” reported Euractiv on May 26, 2023.

Havana’s behavior towards Moscow and Beijing over the past six decades demonstrates a permanent hostility to democracy, human rights, and transparency while at the same time supporting great brutality against civilians. The Castro regime also continues to send signals to their spies in the United States, and collaborate with Beijing with several military bases in Cuba.

At the same time the Castro regime has consistently demonstrated a willingness to lie to achieve its objectives, and this is why they are covering up their military support for Russia’s war in Ukraine. They seek to provide some cover to their friends in the European Union to justify their continued economic support for the Castro regime. It will also provide their agents of influence in the United States with some ammunition to lobby for more unilateral concessions by the United States.

Meduza, September 9, 2023

Trapped in the trenches Russia appears to be covertly recruiting Cuban men for the war with Ukraine. Like the two teens in this story, many of them cannot read their contracts.

3:21 pm, September 9, 2023

Source: Meduza

Alex Rolando Vegas Díaz and Andorf Antonio Velázquez García

Alain Paparazzi Cubano / YouTube

On September 8, a group of Ukrainian legislators accused Cuba of supplying mercenaries to Vladimir Putin’s regime. “We, people’s deputies of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, are deeply concerned about the presence and participation of forces and mercenaries loyal to the dictatorship in the Republic of Cuba in the genocidal invasion of the territory of Ukraine,” their statement read. These allegations were based on a trove of recently leaked documents showing the presence of Cuban conscripts in the Russian military. On the same day, the Cuban authorities announced having uncovered a human trafficking ring, set up to recruit Cuban men into the Russian army, despite Cuba’s official refusal to take part in conflict with Ukraine. Here’s what we know about Cuban conscripts in Russia, based on reports from independent sources.

The outlines of a trafficking scheme

The Cuban news outlet CiberCuba and the Cuban-American influencer Alain Paparazzi Cubano were among the first to pick up the story of Cuban recruits in the Russian military. According to another early report, from the Miami-based news network América TeVé, Cubans are flown to Russia from Varadero, where they can board a direct flight to Moscow. Aeroflot has been offering such flights since July 1.

At the end of May, a regional Russian publication based in Ryazan wrote that several Cuban nationals had just signed contracts with the Russian military and gone off to Ukraine: “The Cubans are saying that they want to help our country meet its goals in the zone of the special military operation,” the paper said, referring to the invasion of Ukraine and adding that “some of them would like to become Russian citizens in the future.”

According to a Russian officer who spoke to The Moscow Times on condition of anonymity, conscripts like these join Russia’s international battalions, comprised largely of non-Russian-speaking troops. The speaker mentioned seeing large numbers of Serbs and Cubans in such units.

According to a translator who works with the Cuban diaspora in Russia and also spoke with The Moscow Times, “there’s a lot of young guys who come here for money, straight from Cuba.” Once they arrive,

they sign a contract and go straight to war. Then they vanish, and their relatives start searching for them through the Cuban diaspora and the social media.

In most cases, the speaker believes, by the time these efforts to locate the missing relative begin, “the person has already been killed.”

Latino teens in the Russian trenches

The story of two Cuban 19-year-olds, Alex Rolando Vegas Díaz and Andorf Antonio Velázquez García, is, so far, the most detailed account of how Cuban men (sometimes very young ones) wind up as mercenaries in Russia’s war with Ukraine.

In July, the two youngsters came to Russia, without so much as an inkling that they’d end up in the trenches in Ukraine. According to the two teens who call one another “hermano,” both of them signed contracts written in Russian, thinking that they were agreeing to dig ditches and do construction work. When interviewed by the Cuban-American influencer Alain Paparazzi Cubano, the boys told him that they heard about job opportunities in Russia from their friends. When they became interested, a Cuban national and two Russians helped them get their tickets and collect the paperwork needed for the trip. According to the teens, 200 other Cubans on the same Moscow flight were also going to Russia expecting to find jobs.

In Moscow, they were met by a Russian woman and a uniformed man who looked Cuban. These people invited them to sign a one-year contract with the Russian army. According to the teens, they were offered salaries of 200,000 rubles (or about $2,000) a month, as well as Russian citizenships for themselves and their family members. Their Cuban passports were taken away, on the pretext of applying for citizenship.

“They told us we were going to dig ditches and rebuild the cities destroyed in the war. Nothing more, and definitely no combat,” said one of the boys. After signing the contract, though, the teens were sent to an army base, and from there to Ukraine, where they were told to dig trenches in the woods. “We had no food or water; we couldn’t bathe; we slept six meters under the ground, where it was horribly damp.” Their phones were taken away.

According to Díaz and Velázquez, they were working together with other Cuban nationals. Since they were also forced to exercise and run, they realized quickly that they were being conditioned for combat. Like a number of their compatriots, the two teens asked to be sent back to Cuba. In response, they were brutally beaten by a Russian soldier who threatened to send them to Russia’s most dangerous prison, the Black Dolphin.

Both Díaz and Velázquez were eventually hospitalized, and later sent to Kaliningrad, where they presumably are now. After they get better, they told Alain Paparazzi Cubano, they will be sent back to Ukraine. If they try to resist or escape, the teens told the influencer, they’ll have to face the military police in Russia.

According to Andorf’s father Mario Velázquez, his son really didn’t know he was going to war.

Who recruits Cubans for the Russian army

On September 6, the Ukrainian investigative project InformNapalm published information about the identities of 198 Cubans and one Colombia national who had reportedly signed contracts with the Russian Defense Ministry. These documents were part of the data trove accessed by Ukrainian Cyber Resistance, a group of hackers who found a vulnerability in the email account of Anton Perevozchikov, an officer responsible for military recruitment in Russia’s Tula region. Cyber Resistance then shared the contents of the leak with the media and the OSINT community.

The leak — comprised of passport scans, migration cards, questionnaires, and contract templates — reveals, among other things, that the oldest Cuban national recruited by the Russian military was 68 years old, while the youngest was only 18.

InformNapalm writes that what drives Cuban men to Russia is poverty in their home country. Their incentive for signing a one-year contract is a sign-up bonus of just under $2,000 in Russian rubles, with a monthly salary of around $2,000 thereafter. Being able to gain Russian citizenship is also offered as a bonus.

Similar terms were outlined by a Facebook user named Elena Shuvalova, who posted multiple recruitment ads in the Cubans in Moscow (Cubanos en Moscú) Facebook group. In conversation with The Moscow Times, Shuvalova confirmed that she “helps” Cubans prepare the paperwork they need to sign a contract with the Russian army.

Alain “Paparazzi Cubano” Lambert has published the phone number of the Russian woman who recruited the teenagers Díaz and Velázquez. That number is linked to the VK profile of Dana Diaz, 34, who also figures as Dallana Russia, Dana Diaz, Dayana Y David, and Dayana Guerra Ucrania (Diana Ukraine War) among various people’s contacts. The caller ID service TrueCaller identifies her number with Dayana Díaz Echemendía. The two teens’ families have confirmed that a woman named Diana or Dayana helped organize the boys’ trip to Russia.

https://meduza.io/en/feature/2023/09/09/trapped-in-the-trenches


Newsweek, September 8, 2023

News

Russia Sparks Rare Condemnation From One of Its Closest Allies

By Jon Jackson On 9/8/23

Cuba on Thursday announced the arrest of 17 people on charges related to a network recruiting Cuban citizens to fight in Russia’s war in Ukraine, according to a Cuban government official.

In a rare rebuke to Russia—a close ally of communist Havana—the Cuban government also stated Cuba has no role in the war in Ukraine and rejects the use of its citizens as fighters for Moscow.

The arrests, which reportedly included one of the recruiting network’s organizers, were announced on the state-run news channel Canal Caribe by César Rodriguez, who heads Cuba’s criminal investigation department. His announcement came days after a statement from Cuba’s Foreign Ministry about how the government had detected a “a human trafficking network” in Russia that was recruiting Cubans for the war. The statement said authorities were already working to “neutralize and dismantle” the ring.

What To Know About Cuba-Russia Relations

Cuba and Russia have maintained strong ties since 1959’s Cuban Revolution, and the Caribbean nation’s current president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, enjoys a good relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Dr. Luis Fleischman, a professor of sociology at Palm Beach State College and co-president of the Palm Beach Center for Democracy and Policy Research, told Newsweek that Russia continues to get involved in Cuba and other Latin American countries “to counterbalance NATO’s expansion in Eastern Europe, particularly as the U.S. and allies are politically and militarily supporting Ukraine.”

As for the recruitment arrests, Fleischman said he believes the Cuban government could have actually been “directly involved” in a recruiting deal with Russia, despite what Cuban officials have said.

“In Cuba, there is no freedom of movement. People cannot leave Cuban territory unless they do it illegally or with permission from the government. Why would Russians recruit soldiers in Cuba under these conditions?” he said.

Fleischman further detailed the Cuban government hiring out the services of its doctors to the world, which could lead them to do the same with its soldiers. He cited “a historical precedent where the Cuban government ‘volunteered’ soldiers to fight for Russia’s interests in Angola, Mozambique, Syria, Congo and Algeria.”

Fleischman, who authored the 2013 book Latin America in the Post-Chávez Era, referenced how Prisoners Defenders—a Madrid-based NGO focused on Cuban human rights—reported earlier this summer that the Cuban and Russian governments had allegedly signed an agreement in which Cuba would be paid to send fighters to Ukraine.

“Now that this deal has been discovered, the Cuban government claims such recruitment exists,” Fleischman said. “However, it is conducted by an illegal human trafficking network, which the Cuban government did not identify.”

But even if a disagreement has occurred between Cuba and Russia regarding the recruitment of Cuban citizens, Fleischman said Cuba stands to benefit too much from keeping close ties with Russia to allow a rift to grow.

“Cuba’s economy is in dire straits, mainly because Venezuela’s oil bonanza is over,” he said. “Russia could help Cuba improve its economy through investments, wheat and food supplies, and infrastructure.”

Fleischman also noted the relationship is mutually beneficial.

“Remember, both countries are under sanctions,” he said. “In other words, there is no reason for both countries to break such a convenient relationship.”

https://www.newsweek.com/russia-sparks-rare-condemnation-cuba-ally-1825705

NPR, September 6, 2023

Latin America

Cuba accuses Russia of quietly recruiting its citizens into the war in Ukraine

September 6, 2023 5:09 AM ET

Heard on Morning Edition

NPR’s Leila Fadel talks to Chris Simmons, an expert in Cuban spycraft, about Cuba charging that Cubans have been conscripted into fighting in Ukraine in exchange for Russian citizenship.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

It sounds like a chapter out of a Cold War-era novel. Cuba says a covert and, as of yet, unnamed group has been recruiting citizens living on the island and in Russia to fight in the ongoing war in Ukraine. The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs says it is working to dismantle the ring and bring those responsible to justice. Thus far, Moscow, Cuba’s one-time communist ally, has been quiet. Here to help us understand what this all means is Chris Simmons, a former counterintelligence officer whose expertise is Cuban spy craft. Welcome, Chris, to the program.

CHRIS SIMMONS: Thank you for having me.

FADEL: So what’s your sense of why Cuba is making this accusation so publicly?

SIMMONS: I think the easy – short explanation is because they got caught, once again. This is just the latest in a long series of criminal enterprises run by the Cuban government. And any time they’ve gotten caught, historically, their first act is to deny it and then imprison some individuals as proof that they had no knowledge.

FADEL: So really covering their tracks, in your view?

SIMMONS: Correct. And this has been – this type of endeavor has been going on for about 60 years, starting with terrorist support and then them serving as the proxies for intelligence efforts on behalf of Russia and others, drug trafficking. So it’s just – it’s institutionalized criminal enterprise by the Havana government.

FADEL: Now, Cuba has made it very publicly clear, at least tried to say, that they have nothing to do with the war in Ukraine, that they had nothing to do with these recruits of Cubans to go fight in the war. Is that about placating the U.S. and telling the U.S., we’re not involved?

SIMMONS: It goes back to the – their deniability. Cuba is a police state, and they proudly boast that. A million Cuban residents are part of what’s called the Committees and Defense of the Revolution, which is essentially a neighborhood snitch program. So the idea that someone could be running a mercenary ring without the government’s knowledge is ludicrous. It’s absolutely impossible for major criminal enterprises to exist without the Cuban government’s knowledge and involvement.

FADEL: So it doesn’t ring true to you. But does the public announcement from Cuba suggest at all that there are cracks in the long relationship between Cuba and Russia?

SIMMONS: The – yes, because there was also – Cuba had good relations with the Ukraine as well. And so before this became public, there had been some intense media coverage, on island, debating the pros and cons of staying out of any aspect of the war in Ukraine, since both were allies.

FADEL: Does Cuba need Russia? I mean, will this impact their relationship? I mean, this is a relatively isolated place. It’s one of the few remaining communist countries. It’s facing its worst economic crisis in decades.

SIMMONS: They absolutely do need Russia. The Cuban economy remains devastated, and the Russians have been their biggest and most generous supporter. And now, unlike the Cold War, they have a chance to play Russian aid off against Chinese aid. So they’re in a very strong economic and political position, and they absolutely need Russia.

FADEL: Will this impact their relationship, though, publicly accusing Russia of this?

SIMMONS: The – I think there’ll be some short-term implications. But long term, it won’t have any effect at all.

FADEL: That was former counterintelligence officer Chris Simmons. Thank you, Chris.

SIMMONS: Thank you.

Copyright © 2023 NPR.

https://www.npr.org/transcripts/1197824605

The Washington Times, 14 June 23 

“China’s Decades-long Military Presence In Cuba Goes Beyond Espionage” 

By: John Suarez and Jianli Yang 

 

OPINION: 

President Biden has made it clear that he seeks competition, not conflict, with China, but President Xi Jinping has other plans. China seeks to replace the U.S. as the world’s superpower, create a new international world order in its totalitarian image, and Communist Cuba has been an ally in that effort. 

The failure of the U.S. to side consistently with pro-democracy movements in both countries led to lost opportunities and instead empowered two regimes hostile to America while the current administration is repeating the same errors. 

There has been a substantial Chinese military presence in Cuba for the past 24 years, and this relationship is not limited to espionage. 

The Biden administration’s initial response to an article in The Wall Street Journal that “China was preparing to build a spy station in Cuba” was one of denial, but the existence of Chinese bases spying on the United States forced the White House to walk that back. 

Manuel Cereijo, a professor of electronic engineering at Florida International University, reported in a 1999 study: “Chinese personnel have allegedly been working out of the Bejucal listening post since March 1999. In 1995, [Russia] began helping Cuba build the base south of Havana. It is allegedly capable of both eavesdropping and ‘cyber-warfare.’ Chinese workers are reportedly helping Cuba modernize a satellite-tracking center.” 

In 2002, in El Nuevo Herald, Mr. Cereijo reported that “Chinese personnel, in collaboration with Cubans on Project Titan, have also built two antenna bases, one in Wajay, Havana, and the other in Santiago de Cuba, known as the antenna farm.” 

Although the communist regimes in China and Cuba were established 10 years apart (Mao Zedong in 1949 and the Castro brothers in 1959), the dictatorships have much in common: They see the U.S. as an enemy, and they also see democracy and human rights as hostile to their interests, and anti-Americanism remains a core tenet of their ideology. 

On Sept. 28, 1960, the Cuban regime diplomatically recognized China. This was at a time when Havana maintained normal diplomatic relations with the United States and had not declared its communist nature, and no sanctions had been imposed.  

In November 1960, Ernesto “Che” Guevara led a Cuban delegation to China, where he met with Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and other high-ranking Chinese officials to discuss conditions in Cuba and Latin America, as well as the prospects for spreading communism across the Western Hemisphere. Between 1960 and 1964, Beijing and Havana worked closely together. When the Castro regime sided with the Soviet Union in the Sino-Soviet split in 1964, these connections cooled. 

Under Castroism, Havana’s ties with foreign countries were frequently defined by their antipathy toward and threat to the United States. From 1959 through 1991, the Soviet Union was regarded as an existential danger to the United States, and Havana maintained close ties with Moscow. Relations with Havana cooled as Mikhail Gorbachev began to push human rights and market reforms in the Soviet Union in 1985. 

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro openly supported Beijing’s Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, and his government was one of the few in the world to do so. This backing resulted in Chinese President Jiang Zemin’s high-level visit to Cuba in 1993, followed by Raul Castro’s first visit to China in 1997. These travels were publicly utilized to sign new trade and investment deals, but they were also used to push more strategic and ideological objectives. 

After negotiations between Raul Castro and Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian, as well as Gen. Dong Liang Ju, an agreement was reached between Beijing and Havana in 1999 under which Chinese military personnel would use the Bejucal base and others alongside Cuban military personnel to spy on the U.S. 

The Washington Times reported on June 12, 2001, that “at least three arms shipments were traced from China to the Cuban port of Mariel over the past several months.” U.S. intelligence authorities were sourced saying, “all of the weapons were aboard vessels owned by the state-run China Ocean Shipping Co. (Cosco).” Military-grade dual-use explosives and detonation cords were among the goods.  

According to the story, the latest of these three shipments arrived in December 2000, coinciding with a visit to Cuba that month of Beijing’s military chief of staff, Fu Quanyou. The Chinese general “signed a military cooperation agreement with Havana aimed at modernizing Cuba‘s outdated Russian weapons,” The Times said. 

Colombia intercepted a Chinese ship smuggling weapons intended for Cuba in 2015. 

Official visits continued with Fidel Castro’s trip to China in 2003 and Raul Castro’s in 2012, while Mr. Xi made his first visit to Cuba in 2014. These high-level visits have continued to this day and do not bode well for U.S. interests. 

Despite this, the Biden administration has maintained that Washington is “determined to avoid” a cold war with Beijing. The incident involving China’s spy station in Cuba is only the latest evidence that Cold War 2.0 has already begun. 

The administration should stop denying it. Instead, it should accept that Beijing and Washington’s relationship is what it is and ensure that the U.S. wins the new Cold War. 

 

https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2023/jun/14/chinas-decades-long-military-presence-in-cuba-goes/