14ymedio, Madrid, 25 September 2023 — “I came here to give my children a better life, not to kill. I won’t shoot a single bullet.” The person saying this – while crying – is a Cuban renamed Pedro by the European edition of Politico magazine, which this Monday published a report on the Cubans who fight on the Russian side in the war in Ukraine. The author of the article has interviewed several recruits, and the title is “Pact with the Devil.”
The magazine makes it clear that it has changed the name of all those who gave their testimony, since they would face serious crimes in Cuba if they were recognized. Among them is César, 19, who tried to flee by raft to Miami last year and was intercepted by the Coast Guard, so he has embarked on plan B: to travel to Moscow and join the Russian Army.
“If this is the sacrifice I have to make for my family to get ahead, I will do it,” says the young man, who leaves a phrase as crude as it is real. “You can be a nuclear physicist and still starve to death in Cuba,” he tells Politico, and explains that his salary barely allowed him to buy toilet paper or milk.
“You can be a nuclear physicist and still die of hunger in Cuba,” he tells Politico and explains that his salary barely allowed him to buy toilet paper or milk
According to the testimonies collected, the media estimates that about 140 Cubans are currently in Russia, most of them aware of the risks and a minority declaring that they had been deceived. Three of the four interviewees arrived this summer from Cuba, where they were told they would be working in hospitality, teaching, construction and the military, respectively; in addition to the latter, two others had done compulsory military service in Cuba.
The four arrived there within the network allegedly organized by a woman known as Elena Shuvalova who, at the end of last year, began to publish calls for Cubans to join the Russian Army with the promise of a year’s contract and citizenship. The agreement included a one-time payment of $2,000 and a monthly salary of $2,100.
According to them, everyone was told that they would be employees of the Army, and their tasks would be to dig trenches or rebuild cities, always far from the front. Upon arrival – by plane from Varadero – they were given an entry card in Migration that indicated “Tourism” as the reason for their visit.
At the Sheremetyevo airport (Moscow), they were received by Diana, allegedly a Cuban woman linked to the Russian authorities, who accompanied them to a bus that they took to Ryazán, 124 miles from the capital. In a place described as “an empty school building,” they were given a medical check and the procedures, including the contract that some requested to read in Spanish, which was granted. For others, the content of the contract was only summarized verbally.
According to Politico, some remained in that military unit, but most ended up stationed in Tula, in a division that had participated in “ferocious combat.” “When they handed us the uniform and told us that we were going to train, I realized that it was not construction at all,” explains Pedro, who admits that he had thought of fleeing.
“Once you have signed the contract, deserting is equivalent to treason,” says an expert consulted by the media
“Once you have signed the contract, deserting is equivalent to treason,” says an expert consulted by the media. Another of the Cubans summarizes it like this: “We signed a contract with the devil, and the devil doesn’t distribute sweets.”
Politico also spoke with Cubans, some still on the Island, who claim to know well what they are getting into. “Nobody put a gun to their heads,” alleges a migrant who was rejected by the Army, allegedly for not knowing how to speak Russian. “The contract makes it clear that you are going to war, not to play ball or camp.” Among those who have not yet arrived, everyone cites economic and not political reasons to embark on this odyssey.
On social networks, the text highlights, there are many images of recruits proudly photographing themselves with armored cars, flags or interacting with their Russian colleagues in harmony. “This is the way we found to get out of Cuba,” said one of the Cubans in this group. “No one wants to kill anyone here. But we don’t want to die ourselves either.”
The magazine has also consulted several experts about this collaboration and whether it is promoted by the Cuban government itself, something of which, for the moment, there is no evidence, they point out. They say that the latest deals and high-level visits between the two countries allow them to deduce that the support is obvious, but also that there is no “evidence of direct participation.”
Without speaking the language, knowing the local terrain or having the proper training for modern warfare, they will all be killed quickly
“Cuba and the Soviet Union fought side by side in Angola and elsewhere, but for ideological reasons,” says Christopher Sabatini, senior researcher for Latin America at the London Foreign Relations Institute Chatham House. “Now it has been reduced to the ugliest and most mercenary terms, giving it a transactional quality that goes against decades of friendship.”
Politico adds that in just one week, 15 recruits from different countries who had been in Russia for just a couple of months have obtained passports from the local governor.
Russia “needs cannon fodder,” adds another specialist, Pavel Luzin, a researcher at the Center for European Policy Analysis, who believes that the majority come from countries in Central Asia and Africa, in addition to Syria and Afghanistan, more specifically. Although it is unknown how many foreigners fight with Moscow, their recruitment tries to convey the idea that there is international support for this war. And he adds: “Without speaking the language, knowing the local terrain or having the proper training for modern warfare, they will all be killed quickly.”
Translated by Regina Anavy
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