Russian helicopter pilot who defected to Ukraine shot dead in Spain

By Isaac M February 21, 2024

A Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine last year has reportedly been found dead in an underground car park in Spain. 

Maxim Kuzminov’s body was found with gunshot wounds on 13 February in the town of Villajoyosa, near Alicante in southern Spain.

Spanish media reported that investigators were searching for two suspects who had fled in a vehicle that was later found burnt out in a nearby town.

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During a flight between two Russian air bases last August, Mr Kuzminov instead landed in Kharkiv, Ukraine with his Mi-8 helicopter as part of a secret operation.

Ukraine‘s GUR military intelligence said it had lured him into defecting.

Russian state media claimed at the time of the defection that Mr Kuzminov shot and killed two crew members on board the helicopter who were unhappy about landing in Ukraine.

Mr Kuzminov was also shot in the leg during the flight, but it was unclear by whom.

Sergei Naryshkin, Russia’s foreign intelligence chief, said: “In Russia it is customary to speak either good of the dead or nothing at all.

“This traitor and criminal became a moral corpse at the very moment when he planned his dirty and terrible crime.”

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In an interview broadcast by Ukraine’s authorities at the time, Mr Kuzminov said: “I contacted representatives of Ukrainian intelligence, explained my situation, to which they offered this option: ‘Come on, we guarantee your safety, guarantee new documents, guarantee monetary compensation, a reward’.”

In a separate documentary, Mr Kuzminov accused Putin of committing “genocide” in Ukraine.

He said: “I am very offended by what is happening now [in Ukraine]. Murder, tears, blood. Just people killing each other.

“What is happening now is just genocide of the Ukrainian people, both Ukrainian and Russian.”

Officers from Russia’s GRU military intelligence outfit had previously said on Russian state television that they received the order for Mr Kuzminov’s execution.

One officer said: “We’ll find the man and punish him for betraying his brothers to the fullest extent of our country’s law.”

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Russian state media blamed Ukraine for Mr Kuzminov’s death, with TASS claiming: “Ukrainian intelligence agencies could have eliminated [Mr Kuzminov] as an inconvenient witness.”

Mr Kuzminov is believed to have been living in Spain with a Ukrainian passport under a different name. His wife and children were brought to Ukraine before he defected.

His death comes just days after Vladimir Putin’s main opponent Alexei Navalny died in an Arctic penal colony.

Read more:
Alexei Navalny’s widow claims he was poisoned

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Navalny’s body ‘in morgue’ as inmate describes ‘mysterious commotion’

Mr Kuzminov is not the first Russian dissident to be killed in Europe.

Alexander Litvinenko was killed after he was given a radioactive cup of tea in London in 2006. A public inquiry subsequently concluded that Putin had “probably” personally instructed Moscow’s federal security service, the FSB, to arrange the murder.

In 2018, two officers from the GRU allegedly tried to kill the Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury.

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