Bullet-riddled body of Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine found in Spain, police say

Maksim Kuzminov is believed to have defected last year by flying into Ukraine in a Mi-8 army helicopter with the help of Ukrainian intelligence. Credit: AP

The bullet-riddled body of a man found in Spain last week is likely that of Maksim Kuzminov, a Russian pilot who defected last year by flying into Ukraine in an army helicopter, police say.

The body was found on February 13 in the entrance to a residential complex in La Cala, near the eastern port city of Alicante, according to Civil Guard police.

The man had been shot half a dozen times and was run over by the car, according to the Spanish state news agency Efe.

Andrii Yusov, a representative of Ukrainian military intelligence, confirmed to local media that the former Russian pilot had died in Spain, but didn’t provide details.

It was not clear how or why Mr Kuzminov travelled to Spain.

The head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergei Naryshkin, described Mr Kuzminov as a "traitor and criminal" who became a "moral corpse" as soon as he started planning "his dirty and terrible crime" to Russian state news outlet TASS.

Spain's Civil Guard said they found false documents on the body. The documents reportedly identified the man as a 33-year-old Ukrainian, but police now believe it could be Mr Kuzminov.

Maksim Kuzminov's escape

Mr Kuzminov defected last year by flying into Ukraine in a Mi-8 army helicopter with the help of Ukrainian intelligence.

It is widely reported that he travelled with his wife and their child, who were removed from Russia before Mr Kuzminov left.

In a series of interviews after his escape, he explained how he managed to get out of Russia.

He 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,’” according to a recording published by Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence in August.

Maksim Kuzminov after he fled Russia. Credit: Defence Intelligence of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine

The head of Ukraine’s Defence Intelligence, Kyrolo Budanov, revealed in August how Ukrainian officials had been able to help the pilot to defect.

“We were able to create the conditions to get his whole family out undetected, and eventually create the conditions so that he could take over this aircraft with a crew that did not know what was happening,” Mr Budanov told Radio Liberty at the time.

“Two more people were with him – a full crew of three persons in total. When they realised where they had landed, they tried to escape. Unfortunately, they were eliminated. We would prefer (to take) them alive, but it is what it is.”

Stories of soldiers defecting from Russia have emerged since the country's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Russians dismayed by the invasion have also been encouraged to spy for the UK by the head of MI6.

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