Briefing: Cuban soldiers in the Russian army fighting in Ukraine. Some historical context.
Center for Free Cuba Briefing Cuban soldiers in the Russian army fighting in Ukraine Some historical context


Cuban soldiers in the Russian army fighting in Ukraine. 

Some historical context.

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez on September 5, 2023  launched a smokescreen to misdirect attention from their support for Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine. It is reminiscent of another launched by Havana in 1989 that became known as the Ochoa affair.  Agents of influence will now mobilize to advance Havana’s spin, and call for giving the 64-year-old military dictatorship the benefit of the doubt. During the Ochoa affair, the Castro regime had Ana Belen Montes firmly embedded at the Pentagon in the Defense Intelligence Agency both spying for Havana, and manipulating U.S. policy, and media coverage towards Cuba. The failure to recognize what the dictatorship in Cuba continues to do to flood the United States with cocaine, is a factor that is costing lives. In 1999, the year when Washington intensified sharing intelligence and cooperation with Havana on “anti-narcotics” efforts, 3,186 U.S. citizens died of cocaine overdoses. In 2021, after 22 years of this “cooperation” 23,513 died in 2021.

With regards to Ukraine, the Castro regime seeks to carry out the same type of disinformation campaign. Although Cuba  is a totalitarian dictatorship with centralized control, and an effective police state — one is now to believe that the Cuban government was not aware of  “a human trafficking network originating in Russia that has been recruiting Cuban citizens to fight on behalf of Russia in Ukraine.” The claim made in the September 5th official statement by Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez that “Cuba is not part of the war in Ukraine” does not pass the smell test.

It is worth reviewing what Havana has been up to in addition to the visible presence of Cuban soldiers fighting in Ukraine, and the statements made by young Cubans shipped abroad to back Moscow’s illegal war.

  • 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 the Pro-Putin Ukraine invasion official line have been arrested.

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

There is a track record in other countries of Cuban troops sent into foreign conflicts to advance Russian interests in Israel, Angola, Ethiopia, and elsewhere. Ukraine is not the first.

Fidel Castro broke relations with Israel in 1973 on the eve of the Yom Kippur War. Noticias de Israel (News of Israel) provided a  more in-depth description of what took place that should raise questions about Cuban soldiers in Ukraine fighting in the Russian army.  A secret effort was planned from the highest echelons of the regime in  Havana to transfer military aid to Syria. For this expedition, a tank  brigade, helicopter pilots, communications operatives, and intelligence  and counterintelligence officials were methodically chosen. It was  critical that these individuals did not raise suspicions and that they  were fully equipped for the mission at hand.

The Military Brigade of Senén Casas Regueiro was mobilized, and this covert plan was carried out under the command of General Leopoldo Cintra Frías, a well-known person in military circles. The soldiers departed Cuba disguised in civilian clothes, with falsified passports identifying them as university students, in a meticulously orchestrated diversionary maneuver. They took separate aircraft to East Germany for a technical stop over before continuing on to their final destination: Syria.

This operation’s surprise led to a succession of enormous losses for Israel, both in terms of human lives and military equipment. During the clash, some civilian areas were also impacted.

On March 31, 1974, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan declared on US television that 3,000 Cuban troops had been transferred to Syria to support the Yom Kippur War. In 1978, The Economist published two articles in its Foreign Report that focused on Cuba’s participation in Syria beginning shortly after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Tank crews from Cuba fought alongside Syrian soldiers. 180 Cubans were killed and 250 were injured, according to Foreign Report.  Combat forces from Cuba stayed in Syria until 1975.

Fidel and Raul Castro along with thousands of their soldiers went to Ethiopia to assist  war criminal Mengistu Haile Mariam consolidate power and commit genocide.  At the time, Fidel Castro denied there was a troop presence in Ethiopia when questioned about it by reporter Barbara Walters in a 1977 interview. Declassified CIA reports place the number of troops there at the time between 11,000 and 13,000.

The Castro dictatorship undermines and compromises democracies in Latin America, turning Venezuela into a colony where thousands of soldiers, and spies torture, rape, and kill Venezuelan dissidents. The secretary general of the OAS describes the 46,000 Cubans in Venezuela as an “occupying force.”

Havana for over six decades has sponsored international terrorism on several continents and created terrorist groups still operating today. It is not an overstatement to say they are experts in violence and terror.  They provide intelligence to Hamas, and allow Hezbollah to set up and maintain a base in Cuba.

Why is Havana now seeking to conceal its military presence in Ukraine?

Other than their part in the war in Angola they tend to downplay their military involvement abroad. Until now the European Union has been unwilling to leverage its position as Cuba’s top trade partner, and all of its development assistance has gone to fund regime entities. Could that change if Havana is seen to be militarily backing Moscow’s ambitions in Ukraine? Or is it that the Biden Administration is about to expand its Obama 2.0 thaw or better said Carter 3.0 thaw with Havana, and that could be jeopardized?

This would not stop Cuba from engaging in the unsavory action, but being more discrete, issuing denials, and engaging in coverups.