Russian defector assassinated in Spain

Moscow is suspected of orchestrating an operation to murder former helicopter pilot.

A former Russian army captain who defected to Ukraine last year and lived in Spain under a fake name was assassinated in the village of Villajoyosa, near Alicante, on 13 February.

Maksim Kuzminov was shot six times in an underground parking area and died instantly because of the wounds, Spanish police said. The assailants also ran him over with a car.

Sources within Spanish intelligence, speaking to El País, acknowledged the difficulty of directly connecting the murder to a specific Russian agency. They believe Moscow enlisted foreign hitmen, operating outside Spain, to execute the assassination. It is difficult to prove the connection with the Kremlin and, if proved, it’s unclear what the response could be. 

Spanish forensic specialists examine Kuzminov's body.

Credit: El Pais.

The Spanish intelligence services were reportedly unaware of Kuzminov's presence in Spain, as his arrival was not communicated to them. Government spokesperson Pilar Alegría, when questioned, declined to disclose whether Kuzminov was under Spanish police protection, citing an ongoing investigation.

The ex-pilot was probably spotted by Russian intelligence when he invited a former girlfriend to visit him in Spain, local media speculate. Due to an ongoing investigation regarding Moscow’s sponsorship of the Catalan independence movement, sending own hitmen is risky, therefore foreign contractors were hired, according to an informal version of events.

Kuzminov defected from Russia in August 2023, flying his Mi-8 helicopter into Ukraine and surrendering to the defenders on the front line. He was allegedly rewarded with the equivalent of 500,000 US dollars for his act.

More to read:
Spain will continue investigation into Russian role in Catalonian independence project

In comments to the Russian state-run news agency TASS, Sergey Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service SVR, characterized Kuzminov as a "traitor and criminal" who had become a "moral corpse" while planning a "dirty and terrible crime."

Explaining his decision to surrender to Ukraine, Kuzminov said he refused to participate in an illegal war and kill innocent civilians.

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