Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine is dead: Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence

Defense Intelligence Service of Ukraine

Maxim Kuzminov was offered the chance to stay in Ukraine after his defection, but he decided to go elsewhere, a Ukrainian intelligence source said.


Maxim Kuzminov, a Russian pilot who dramatically defected to Ukraine by flying his helicopter over the border, is dead, according to the Ukrainian Directorate of Defense Intelligence (GUR).

The news comes after Spain’s Civil Guard in Alicante province told CNN that a man was shot dead on February 13 in the parking garage of an apartment complex in Villajoyosa, a Mediterranean seaside resort.

Initially, the Guardia Civil said the victim was a 33-year-old Ukrainian, but later said the identity of the body had yet to be established and was part of an investigation, which had been sealed by a judge.

A source at Ukraine’s GUR confirmed to CNN that the body of the man found in Spain was that of Kuzminov, but would not comment on how he died.

The remains of the man shot in the garage are believed to still be in the province of Alicante, under the watch of forensic investigators.

The shooting took place in a neighborhood where some Russian and Ukrainian expats have settled since the start of the war, the Villajoyosa City Hall press service said.

When asked on Tuesday whether Russia had any knowledge of the death, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow had no information about the case.

Russia’s director of foreign intelligence, Sergey Naryshkin, also declined to comment directly on Kuzminov’s death, but told reporters that the defector had “become a moral corpse at the moment he began to plan his dirty and terrible crime,” Russia’s RIA Novosti reported.

Shortly after Kuzminov’s defection, Russian television broadcast a segment about him in the program ‘Vesti Nedeli’, which posed a clear threat to the defector’s life. In the program, a reporter said that Russian military intelligence had already received their order regarding Kuzminov, adding that “its implementation is only a matter of time.”

Later in the segment, a man in a military uniform, whose face is covered, says, “We can’t let something like that go, we will punish him for such actions.”

The Freedom for Russia Legion – a group associated with the Ukrainian GUR, made up of Russian nationals fighting for Ukraine – sent their condolences to Kuzminov’s family and friends, saying he was a “true warrior and honest man”.

“Ukraine fulfilled all his obligations to Maxim, he received the promised monetary reward for the equipment provided and had the opportunity to choose to stay in Ukraine and live in peace, continue to serve in one of the units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, or to join the EU,” the Legion said in a statement.

Kuzminov defected in August after Kiev unknowingly removed his family from Russia, GUR head Kyrolo Budanov told Radio Liberty last year. Budanov said it was the first successful operation of its kind.

When Kuzminov flew into Ukraine, the two other Russian soldiers on board the Mi-8 helicopter did not know what was happening. The pair were killed as they tried to escape after realizing they had landed in Ukraine.

“We would prefer to take them alive, but it is what it is,” Budanov said at the time.

In an interview published by GUR in September, Kuzminov talked about the defection. He told reporters that he fled Russia because he was against the war.

“I contacted representatives of the Ukrainian intelligence service, explained my situation and offered them this option: ‘Come on, we guarantee your safety, guarantee new documents, guarantee monetary compensation, a reward,’” the pilot said.

His defection came apparently at the last minute during a flight near the border.

After giving his location, he said, “Let’s give it a try, I’m not that far away.”

“After making a final decision, I flew at extremely low altitude in radio silence mode. No one really understood what was going on with me,” Kuzminov said.

CNN’s Victoria Butenko and Andrew Carey reported from Kiev, Ukraine, and Al Goodman from Madrid

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