Russian Oligarchs

Russian Pilot Maxim Kuzminov, Who Defected to Ukraine in 2023, Allegedly Shot Dead in Spain

Maxim Kuzminov, a Russian pilot who famously defected to Ukraine with his helicopter last year, was tragically discovered dead in an underground garage in Spain last week, with his body bearing multiple gunshot wounds, as reported by Ukrainian and Spanish media outlets.

The grim discovery of Kuzminov’s body occurred on February 13 in the town of Villajoyosa, located near Alicante in southern Spain.

The Ukrainian military intelligence confirmed Kuzminov’s death on February 19, following widespread speculation and discussions on Russian social media and news platforms regarding the circumstances surrounding his killing. Reports indicate that Kuzminov sustained as many as twelve gunshot wounds.

Operation Sunbird : Maxim Kuzminov

This espionage saga unfolds against the backdrop of a daring defection involving a Russian Mi-8 helicopter to Ukraine on August 23, 2023, as part of Operation Sunbird—an intricately planned and clandestine mission masterminded by Ukrainian intelligence.

Operation Sunbird
Operation Sunbird

Operation Sunbird, meticulously crafted over a span of more than six months, entailed the helicopter clandestinely shuttling parts between Russian military bases before executing a daring landing in Kharkiv Oblast. Pilot Maxim Kuzminov, along with unsuspecting crew members, found themselves unwitting participants in this audacious defection. Tragically, two of Kuzminov’s crew members reportedly lost their lives in the aftermath of the successful defection.

Kuzminov, a pivotal figure in the operation, subsequently resettled in Ukraine with his family, who had been discreetly extracted from Russia. Under a government program, Maxim Kuzminov received $500,000 in compensation along with a new identity—a testament to the significant triumph achieved by Ukrainian intelligence.

Maxim Kuzminov
Maxim Kuzminov

The Mi-8 helicopter, originally intended for transporting parts to Russian jets, now stands proudly as part of Ukraine’s combat fleet, serving as a tangible symbol of resilience and victory amidst the ongoing conflict.

Spain’s state news agency EFE disclosed that a body discovered on February 13 in the town of Villajoyosa, near Alicante in southern Spain, has been identified as pilot Maxim Kuzminov. Kuzminov, known for his high-profile defection to Ukraine last August with his Mi-8 helicopter, had been residing in Spain under a Ukrainian passport and a different identity, as reported.

A spokesperson for Ukraine’s GUR military intelligence confirmed Kuzminov’s demise in Spain to Reuters but refrained from specifying the cause of death. Ukrainska Pravda, a Ukrainian newspaper, further corroborated the report, stating that Kuzminov had been found shot dead.

While Spanish authorities confirmed the discovery of a gunshot victim in Villajoyosa, they have not officially disclosed the victim’s identity. Sources within Spain’s Guardia Civil police force informed Reuters that the victim may have been living under an assumed identity.

Initial reports from Spain’s La Informacion newspaper, which broke the news of the shooting, indicate that investigators are pursuing two suspects who allegedly fled the scene in a vehicle, later found abandoned and burnt in a nearby town.

Maxim Kuzminov’s defection to Ukraine was hailed as a significant victory for Kyiv upon its revelation last year. The GUR asserted its role in enticing Kuzminov to defect, portraying the event as a strategic achievement.

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