A “hero” Russian military pilot who flew his Mi-8 helicopter over the front line to defect to Ukraine has been found dead in Spain amid reports in Moscow that his body was “raised by bullets”.
Captain Maksim Kuzminov, 28, fled Russia with the help of Ukrainian intelligence services and accused Vladimir Putin of “genocide” after 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 did not provide further details on the circumstances surrounding his death.
It comes after Spanish authorities said a 33-year-old Ukrainian man had been shot dead inside a garage in Villajoyosa, near Alicante, on Tuesday afternoon.
Sources close to the investigation said the man had suffered nearly a dozen gunshot wounds. A burned car believed to be related to the shooting was later found nearby.
Almost a week later, a sudden avalanche of reports from state and pro-Putin media in Russia have strongly suggested that Kuzminov was the victim of the Spanish shooting.
Responding to the reports, investigators in Spain said today that they are investigating whether the victim, who has not been identified, may have been using a false identity.
Captain Maksim Kuzminov, 28, fled Russia with the help of Ukrainian intelligence services.
Spanish authorities said a 33-year-old Ukrainian man was shot dead inside a garage in Villajoyosa, near Alicante, on Tuesday afternoon.
The Russian military pilot flew over the front line with his Mi-8 helicopter to defect to Ukraine.
Reports of the mysterious death emerged days after Putin critic Alexei Navalny died in an Arctic penal colony.
His widow claimed today that her husband was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok and blamed the Russian president for his death.
State media previously reported that Putin’s military intelligence service was under orders to do everything possible to “eliminate” Kuzminov, who has been labeled a traitor in his homeland.
It is now claimed in Russia that the war critic kept in touch with people from his previous life, which may have led Russian authorities to him.
State news agency TASS reported: “Maxim Kuzminov, a pilot who hijacked a Russian military helicopter in 2023, has been found dead in Spain, several Spanish military media outlets said.”
Another Kremlin-compliant outlet, Mash, said there were reports that “Maxim Kuzminov’s body was seen by a local resident on February 13; he was riddled with bullets.”
The outlet also claimed that the defector had “behaved inappropriately, yelling and constantly chattering 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 him over in a car.’
He later amended his story to say that he was “supposedly found dead.”
Russian media have also blamed 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, shortly after his dramatic defection, there were public death threats against Kuzminov in Russia, with suggestions that Putin’s secret services would find him and kill him in a final betrayal.
Kuzminov’s wife and family were believed to have been removed from Russia before he defected.
Last year, anonymous officers from Russia’s GRU Spetsnaz special forces appeared on Moscow state television making it clear that an “order” had been given to liquidate Kuzminov.
State channel Rossiya 1’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.’
A Spetsnaz officer said: “We will find the man and punish him for betraying his brothers to the fullest extent of the law of our country.”
A second officer said: “He won’t live…”
Kuzminov’s wife and family were believed to have been removed from Russia before he defected. It was not known why he was in Spain.
In Spain, a spokesperson for the Civil Guard said today: “On Tuesday last week a man was found dead in Villajoyosa with several gunshot wounds.
‘During the course of the investigation being carried out, it has become known that the identity used by that person could be false and belong to another person.
“The Civil Guard is still trying to confirm it.”
After his defection, Kuzminov irritated the Kremlin by urging other Russians to follow his example and defect to Ukraine.
He was also accused of being responsible for the deaths of two crew members who died when he deserted.
There have been claims in Russia that Kuzminov, labeled a traitor in his homeland, had kept in touch with people from his previous life (pictured with his mother Inna Kuzminova).
After defecting, Kuzminov became a propaganda trophy for Ukraine.
He claimed there were no Nazis in Ukraine – a common claim by Putin – and accused the dictator of “genocide” of both Ukrainians and Russians by waging the war.
In a documentary about his daring escape and surrender, he said: ‘I realized I was close to the border.
‘So I gave my location, I said, let’s try it… I had made my final decision… I flew at an 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 simply a genocide of the Ukrainian people, both Ukrainian and Russian.
“The basis of my action is not to contribute to these crimes.”
In an interview released by Ukrainian authorities, Kuzimov said: “I contacted representatives of the Ukrainian secret services, explained my situation and they offered me this option: “Come on, we guarantee your safety, we guarantee new documents, we guarantee monetary compensation , a reward”. ‘
He was reportedly promised £400,000 if he defected to Ukraine with Russian military equipment.