Russian Defect Dies in Spain

( – A Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine been found dead in Spain.

Details surrounding the circumstances of the death of former Russian pilot Maksym Kuzminov are scarce, as Spanish law enforcement continue to investigate the incident. Kuzminov’s body was found in an underground parking structure in the southern region of Spain, near Alicante. He was reportedly shot at least five times. A local news outlet reported that two men were seen leaving the scene on a vehicle that was later abandoned and then burned. Kuzminov had been living in Spain under a fake name, and Spanish authorities initially thought that the murder was gang-related.

Kuzminov used to be a captain in the 319th separate helicopter regiment of the Russian military. Kuzminov ostensibly found a way to express his intentions to defect to Ukrainian agents, who spirited his family away over a six-month, top-secret operation called “Titmouse”. The operation culminated in August, when Kuzminov landed the Russian Mi-8 helicopter he was piloting onto the Kharkiv air base in in Ukraine. The helicopter had two other passengers, who did not know that Kuzminov was defecting. They refused to surrender and had to be “eliminated,” according to the Ukrainian military.

The Ukraine Defense Intelligence publicly identified Kuzminov as a defector in September. In an interview that was released by Ukrainian officials, the former Russian pilot said that he defected because he did not want to commit war crimes, calling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a “genocide” of both Ukranians and Russians. The 28-year-old Kuzminov also called on fellow Russian soldiers to defect to Ukraine, saying that in doing so, they would be “provided for, for the rest of your lives.”

Kuzminov received $500,000 under a Ukrainian program that offers financial incentives to encourage Russian soldiers to surrender military equipment to Ukraine.

Kuzminov’s death comes on the heels of news of the demise of Alexei Navalny, the leader of the opposition against Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Russian strongman has long been accused of employing cruel tactics against political opponents and others he perceives to be enemies. Ukrainian officials warned against Kuzminov leaving the country, but he ultimately decided to move to Spain.

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