Region of Concern: Cuba; Russia
Written By Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg; Edited by Elena Alice Rossetti
Date: September 5, 2023
Map of Cuba and Russia
Event: On September 4, the Cuban foreign ministry reported they had uncovered a human trafficking ring operating in Cuba and in Russia, trying to coerce Cuban citizens to fight for Russia in its war against Ukraine. According to the statement, the group targeted mainly Cuban citizens in Russia, but there are also some cases of coercing people in Cuba. The foreign ministry is currently working to dismantle and neutralize the group and has stated criminal proceedings will occur. The Russian government has not commented on it. Human trafficking in Russia has increased since its war against Ukraine, and the Russian government is not working actively to stop these criminal activities. Reports indicate Russia has forced Ukrainians living under Russian occupation in Eastern Ukraine to fight against their own country and coerced both adults and children into forced labor, since the beginning of the war in 2014. The US declared Russia a “state sponsor” of human trafficking.
Significance: The war in Ukraine has very likely resulted in the human trafficking ring focusing on soldiers, rather than other types of forced labor, such as trafficking for sex or industrial labor. Soldier trafficking will likely increase since Russia almost certainly needs to replenish the army ranks as the war continues. Criminal groups, for financial gain, will likely exploit Russia’s need to extend recruitment, because of the lack of volunteers to the Russian army. It is likely that the Russian army has been aware of these coerced recruitments but hasn’t taken action against them because of the large need for soldiers. Coerced soldiers likely receive little to no training from the Russian army and are likely sent out, poorly equipped, to the front lines in Eastern Ukraine. These new soldiers will likely raise Russian chances of advancing, in the short term, but will very likely increase deaths among Russian soldiers, particularly among non-Russian nationals, in the long term. Criminal groups will almost certainly continue to take advantage of Russia’s war in Ukraine, likely expanding human trafficking for foreign soldiers. Human traffickers will likely target individuals from low-income areas and countries with a significant presence of criminal gangs that very likely use threats of violence against individuals and their families to coerce them into joining the war in Ukraine.
Recommendations: CTG recommends Interpol and national law enforcement to increase surveillance of human trafficking rings operating in Russia and cooperate with the Ukrainian army to receive reports about potentially coerced Russian soldiers. The EU and the US should enforce sanctions on any groups or individuals involved in these operations, including Russian officials who might be aware of this without taking action to stop it. Countries previously affected by human trafficking to Russia, such as Cuba, Nigeria, Romania, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, North Korea, and Moldova, should launch information campaigns targeted toward at-risk communities, explaining the potential threat and the way these groups operate. The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and the EU should condemn Russia’s use of coerced soldiers in its war against Ukraine. Human rights groups operating in Russia and Ukraine should monitor reports about human trafficking and increase support for human trafficking victims in this region.
 Cuba uncovers human trafficking of Cubans to fight for Russia in Ukraine, Reuters, September 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/cuba-uncovers-human-trafficking-cubans-fight-russia-ukraine-2023-09-05/
 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report: Russia, U.S. Department of State, 2023, https://www.state.gov/reports/2023-trafficking-in-persons-report/russia/#:~:text=NGO%20estimates%20of%20the%20actual,against%20Ukraine%20increased%20trafficking%20risks.
 US criticizes Russia in annual human trafficking report, Reuters, June 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/us-criticizes-russia-annual-human-trafficking-report-2023-06-15/