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‘Hero’ Russian military pilot who flew Mi-8 helicopter over frontline to defect to Ukraine is ‘found dead in Spain’ months after death threats – as reports in Moscow claim body was ‘riddled with bullets’


A ‘hero’ Russian military pilot who flew his Mi-8 helicopter over the frontline to defect to Ukraine has been gunned to death in Spain – as reports in Moscow claim his body was ‘riddled with bullets’.

Captain Maksim Kuzminov, 28, fled Russia with the help of Ukrainian intelligence services and accused Vladimir Putin of ‘genocide’ following his daring escape last summer.

Ukrainian GUR military intelligence confirmed today that the pilot – a known target of Russian death squads – had died in Spain, but gave no further details about the circumstances surrounding his death.

It comes after Spanish authorities said a Ukrainian man aged 33 had been shot dead inside a garage in Villajoyosa, near Alicante, on Tuesday afternoon.

Sources close to the inquiry said the man had received nearly a dozen gunshot wounds. A burnt-out car believed to have been linked to the shooting was subsequently found nearby. 

Almost a week later, a sudden flurry of reports from state and pro-Putin media in Russia have strongly suggested that Kuzminov was the victim in the Spanish shooting.

Responding to the reports, investigators in Spain said today that they are looking into whether the victim, who has not been named, may have been using a false identity. 

Captain Maksim Kuzminov, 28, fled Russia with the help of Ukrainian intelligence services

Captain Maksim Kuzminov, 28, fled Russia with the help of Ukrainian intelligence services

 

Spanish authorities said a Ukrainian man aged 33 had been shot dead inside a garage in Villajoyosa, near Alicante, on Tuesday afternoon

Spanish authorities said a Ukrainian man aged 33 had been shot dead inside a garage in Villajoyosa, near Alicante, on Tuesday afternoon 

The Russian military pilot flew his Mi-8 helicopter over the frontline to defect to Ukraine

The Russian military pilot flew his Mi-8 helicopter over the frontline to defect to Ukraine

A Civil Guard spokesman said today: ‘On Tuesday last week a man appeared dead in Villajoyosa with several gunshot wounds.

‘In the course of the investigation that is being carried out, it has been learned that the identity that person was using could be false and belong to another person.

‘The Civil Guard is still trying to confirm this.’

There have been claims in Russia that Kuzminov, labelled a traitor in his homeland, had kept in contact with people from his former life, which may have led the Russians to him.

State news agency TASS reported: ‘Maxim Kuzminov, a pilot who hijacked a Russian military helicopter in 2023, has reportedly been found dead in Spain, a number of Spanish military outlets said.’

Another Kremlin-obedient outlet Mash said there were reports that ‘the body of Maxim Kuzminov was seen by a local resident on February 13 – it was riddled with bullets.’

The outlet also claimed the defector had ‘behaved inappropriately, shouted and constantly chattered drunkenly about his past and present life.’

Pro-Putin outlet Shot reported: ‘Pilot Maxim Kuzminov, who hijacked a Russian military helicopter, was found dead in Spain. They shot him 12 times and then ran over him in a car.’

It later amended its story to say he was ‘allegedly found dead’.

Russian media channels have also piled blame on Ukraine for the defector’s death, without providing evidence.

TASS alleged that ‘Ukrainian intelligence agencies could have eliminated [Kuzimov] as an inconvenient witness’.

In October, soon after his dramatic defection, there were public death threats against Kuzminov in Russia, with suggestions that Putin’s secret services would find and kill him for an ultimate betrayal.

Anonymous Spetsnaz special forces officers from Russia’s GRU military intelligence service were last year shown on Moscow state TV making clear an ‘order’ had been given to liquidate Kuzminov.

Kuzminov's wife and family were believed to have been taken out of Russia before he defected

Kuzminov’s wife and family were believed to have been taken out of Russia before he defected

State-run Rossiya 1 channel’s Vesti Nedeli channel told viewers in a chilling broadcast: ‘The order [to kill Captain Kuzminov] was received, its execution is a matter of time.’

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

A second officer said: ‘He will not live…’

Kuzminov’s wife and family were believed to have been taken out of Russia before he defected. It was not known why he was in Spain.

After his defection, the pilot riled the Kremlin by urging other Russians to follow his example and defect to Ukraine.

He was also accused of being responsible for the death of two crew members who died when he defected.

There have been claims in Russia that Kuzminov, labelled a traitor in his homeland, had kept in contact with people from his former life (pictured with his mother Inna Kuzminova)

There have been claims in Russia that Kuzminov, labelled a traitor in his homeland, had kept in contact with people from his former life (pictured with his mother Inna Kuzminova)

After defecting, Kuzminov became a propaganda trophy for Ukraine.

He stated there were no Nazis in Ukraine – a regular Putin assertion – and accused the dictator of ‘genocide’ of both Ukrainians and Russians by conducting the war.

In a documentary on his audacious flight and surrender, he said: ‘I realised I was near the border.

‘So I gave my location, said let’s give it a shot… I had made my final decision… I flew at extremely low altitude in radio silent mode.…’

He said: ‘[I defected because] I am very offended by what is happening now.

‘Murder, tears, blood. Just people killing each other…

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

‘The basis of my action is not to contribute to these crimes.’

In an interview broadcast by Ukraine’s authorities, Kuzimov 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”.’ 

He was reportedly promised £400,000 to defect to Ukraine with Russian military equipment.



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