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Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine with stolen military helicopter shot dead in Spain

A Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine last year with a Mi-8 helicopter has been found dead in an underground garage in Spain, Ukrainian officials said this week.

The body of pilot Maxim Kuzminov was found on 13 February with multiple bullet wounds, in southern Spain’s coastal town of Villajoyosa in Alicante, reported Ukrainian and Spanish media on Monday.

Mr Kuzminov defected to Ukraine in August last year and reached the country in a Russian Mi-8 helicopter. He was reportedly living under a different name and identity in Spain with a Ukrainian passport, the report added.

His defection was seen as a major coup for Kyiv following a six-month intelligence operation. Ukrainian officials confirmed they had lured him into defecting and arranged for him to land the Mi-8 in Kharkiv.

“He decided to move to Spain instead of staying here [in Ukraine]. From what we know, he invited his ex to his place and was later found shot dead,” Ukrainian news website Ukrainska Pravda reported on Monday, quoting a Ukrainian intelligence source.

Russia’s spy chief Sergei Naryshkin responded to reports of Mr Kuzminov’s death on Tuesday, calling him a “traitor and criminal”.

Spanish Guardia Civil officers investigate the garage where Mr Kuzminov’s body was found (Reuters)
Spanish Guardia Civil officers investigate the garage where Mr Kuzminov’s body was found (Reuters)

“In Russia it is customary to speak either good of the dead or nothing at all,” said Mr Naryshkin, the director of Russia’s foreign intelligence service (SVR).

“This traitor and criminal became a moral corpse at the very moment when he planned his dirty and terrible crime,” Mr Naryshkin was quoted as saying by the TASS news agency.

A spokesperson for Ukraine’s GUR military intelligence said Mr Kuzminov died in Spain, but did not specify the cause of death. Spanish police officials have not confirmed the victim’s identity but said a body of a gunshot victim was found in the town.

The victim could have been living under a fake identity, according to a source at Spain’s Guardia Civil police force.

A burned car allegedly used by the killers to escape the scene is parked outside the Guardia Civil barracks, in El Campello (Reuters)
A burned car allegedly used by the killers to escape the scene is parked outside the Guardia Civil barracks, in El Campello (Reuters)

Investigators are searching for two suspects who are believed to have fled in a vehicle that was later found burnt and abandoned in a nearby town, reported Spain’s La Informacion newspaper.

The reports of Mr Kuzminov’s death come in the wake of Russia’s main opposition leader and fierce Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny dying suddenly in his Arctic prison.

Mr Navalny’s widow Yulia has accused Vladimir Putin of poisoning her husband with novichok and hiding his body until traces of the nerve agent are unable to be detected.