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Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine 'found dead in underground car park in Spain'

Maxim Kuzminov (Defence Intelligence Ukraine)
Maxim Kuzminov (Defence Intelligence Ukraine)

A Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine with his helicopter last year has reportedly been shot dead in underground car park in Spain.

The body of Maxim Kuzminov was found with a number of gunshot wounds, by a garage in Villajoyosa, near Alicante in southern Spain, on February 13, according to a report by Spain’s state news agency EFE.

Ukraine's Ukrainska Pravda newspaper also reported that Mr Kuzminov had been found shot dead.

A spokesperson for Ukraine’s GUY military intelligence confirmed Mr Kuzminov died in Spain, but did not specify the cause of his death.

Mr Kuzminov landed at an airfield Ukraine with his Mi-8 helicopter last August, at the age of 28.

According to EFE, he had recently been living in Spain with a Ukrainian passport under a different name.

Villajoyosa is understood to be home to a large population of Russian and Ukrainian people.

Spanish police have confirmed the body of a gunshot victim was found in Villajoyosa, but they have not disclosed the victim's identity.

A source at Spain's Guardia Civil police force told news agency Reuters that the victim could have been living under a fake identity.

Spain's La Informacion newspaper, which first reported the shooting, said investigators were searching for two suspects who had fled in a vehicle that was later found burnt out in a nearby town.

Mr Kuzminov's defection to Ukraine was presented last year as a major coup for Kyiv. The GUR said at the time that it had lured him into defecting.

Speaking in a TV interview about the August 9 operation, Mr Kuzminov said he felt “sorry for what is happening right now: killings, tears, and blood”.

“I got in touch with representatives of the Ukrainian military intelligence and explained my situation to them,” he said. “They offered me a deal to promise me safety, new documents and a reward.”

His defection took about six months to plan, according to reports.

The operation happened during a mission when Mr Kuzminov was flying close to the border with north-eastern Ukraine. He told how he contacted his handlers and suggested it was a good moment to flee.

“I said: ‘Let’s try it. I’m very close by,’” he said. “I flew on at the lowest possible altitude with radio silence. No one really knew where I was.”

Military intelligence spokesman Andriy Yusov announced on Ukrainian television in September that Mr Kuzminov would receive a $500,000 reward for changing sides, paid in the national currency, the hryvnia.

He also called on other Russian military personnel to follow suit and defect.

“Once again, those Russians who don’t want to become war criminals, please, surrender, defect to the Ukrainian side and defend your own honour and conscience, fight against [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s regime,” Mr Yusov said.