Havana — Cuba has identified an alleged human trafficking ring aimed at recruiting its citizens to fight in Russia's war in Ukraine, the foreign ministry said Monday.
The ministry said in a statement sent to CBS News that the Cuban government was working to dismantle a "a human trafficking network that operates from Russia in order to incorporate Cuban citizens living there and even some living in Cuba, into the military forces that participate in military operations in Ukraine," adding that "attempts of this nature have been neutralized and criminal proceedings have been initiated against those involved in these activities."
The Cuban Foreign Ministry accused the country's unspecified "enemies" of "promoting distorted information that seeks to tarnish the country's image and present it as an accomplice to these actions that we firmly reject."
The ministry did not say in its statement how many suspects were facing "criminal proceedings" in relation to the case, or whether any charges had been filed.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said in social media post that the government was "acting with the full force of the law" against trafficking operations.
"Cuba is not part of the war in Ukraine," the ministry said, adding it would take action against anyone "who participates in any form of human trafficking for the purpose of recruitment or mercenaryism for Cuban citizens to use arms against any country."
There was no immediate reaction from Moscow.
On Friday, Miami's America TeVe newspaper published what it described as testimonies from two teenagers who said they had been tricked into working alongside the Russian army on construction sites in Ukraine.
In a video message posted on the newspaper's website, one of the teens called for help getting out as quickly as possible. America TeVe said the video message was sent from a bus transporting the pair from Ukraine to the Russian city Ryazan along with Russian servicemen.
"We can't sleep (because) at any moment they can come back and do something to us," said another young man, who claimed to have been beaten.
Another Cuban man told the media outlet that he had signed up with Moscow's armed forces hoping to legalize his status in Russia.
Moscow and Havana have boosted ties recently, with Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel meeting his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow at the end of last year.
In June, Cuban Defense Minister Alvaro Lopez Miera was received by his counterpart Sergei Shoigu.
Ukraine said Monday that it had made some gains against Russian forces in the south, but its counteroffensive across much of the long front line has ground to a stalemate in recent weeks.
Russia, most of them recruited from its own soil , in its invasion of Ukraine until the group's leader staged a brief, unsuccessful mutiny in June. That leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was largely seen as a Russian state-backed assassination in late August.
Foreign fighters, including from the U.S., have alsoalongside Ukrainian forces since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.
for more features.