Bullet-riddled body found in Spain was Russian defector, Ukraine says

Bullet-riddled body found in Spain was Russian defector, Ukraine says

A man’s corpse, found riddled with bullets and run over by a vehicle in Spain last week, was identified as that of Russian military pilot Maksim Kuzminov, who flew his Mi-8 helicopter to Ukraine in a dramatic defection in August, Ukrainian officials said.

His killing — after a very public threat to his life last year on Russian state television — has raised questions about whether this was a Russian-ordered assassination carried out on European soil.

Podcast episodeNews of Kuzminov’s violent demise emerged just days after the sudden death in prison of Russian political opposition leader Alexei Navalny, which European and U.S. officials have framed as evidence of the Russian government’s unchecked brutality.

The spokesman for Ukraine’s intelligence service, Andriy Yusov, confirmed to The Washington Post on Tuesday that the body found at the entrance to a residential complex in Villajoyosa, in Alicante, was Kuzminov’s.

Russian officials have not claimed responsibility for the killing. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the case Tuesday, saying it was “not on the Kremlin’s agenda.”

But Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, spoke to Russian journalists Tuesday, saying that Kuzminov was dead the moment he started planning his defection.

“In Russia, it is common to speak well of the dead or say nothing at all. This traitor and criminal already became a moral corpse at the moment when he was planning his dirty and terrible crime,” Naryshkin said, according to reports in Russian state news agencies Tass and Ria.

In October, Dmitry Kiselyov, host of the state television news program “Vesti Nedeli,” aired a segment on Kuzminov’s defection. The report ended by quoting three masked men in camouflage, identified as special forces members of Russian military intelligence, stating that they had been given the order to eliminate Kuzminov.

“We will find the man and punish him to the full extent of the law of our state for treason,” said one. “We have long arms.”

“He will not live to see the trial,” said another.

Russian propagandists celebrated the pilot’s reported death Tuesday.

Pro-Kremlin blogger Sergei Markov posted on Telegram that Kuzminov was “eliminated.”

“We will not rejoice in anyone’s death. But this news can save many lives, because it reminds everyone: Save your lives and never cooperate with the Ukrainian neo-fascist regime in anything,” he said.

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, warned that the killing of Kuzminov could embolden Russians to take more such actions.

“If the Russians feel so empowered within the European Union that they start killing people, the question becomes quite complex. This is not the first instance where Russians behave this way,” he told Ukrainska Pravda newspaper late Monday.

As a result of one of the most brazen cases in Europe, Russian agent Vadim Krasikov is serving life imprisonment in Germany for fatally shooting former Chechen rebel Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten park in 2019. German prosecutors said during his trial that Krasikov probably acted on the orders of Russian state security services.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied involvement, but Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to undercut those denials with an oblique comment in his interview this month with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

Putin suggested that he might be open to a swap involving the release of Evan Gershkovich — a Wall Street Journal correspondent being held on spying charges that he and the State Department vehemently deny — in exchange for “a person serving a sentence in a country allied to the U.S.”

Putin described Krasikov as “a person who, due to patriotic sentiments, eliminated a bandit in one of the European capitals.”

“Whether he did it of his own volition or not, that is a different question,” Putin added.

British authorities also blamed Russian security services for the fatal poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Federal Security Service officer and Putin critic, in London in 2006, and again when former Russian intelligence agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in Salisbury, England, in 2018. The Skripals survived, but a British citizen, Dawn Sturgess, died after handling the discarded perfume bottle that contained the nerve agent.

Spain’s Interior Ministry on Tuesday would not confirm the identity of the body found in Villajoyosa. Investigators had initially believed the person who died was a Ukrainian by a different name.

“In the course of the investigation that is being carried out, it has come to our attention that the identity of this person could be false and could be that of another individual. The Guardia Civil is proceeding to verify this, but we are unable to provide any further information at this time,” the ministry said in a statement.

Spanish media cited sources inside the Guardia Civil confirming that the body was Kuzminov’s. Witnesses told local media that gunmen shot him several times, then ran him over and escaped in a car.

Ukraine announced with great fanfare in August an intelligence operation that persuaded Kuzminov to fly his Mi-8 helicopter loaded with jet parts into Ukraine to defect. The two crew members with him were unaware of the plot and were shot by Ukrainian forces when they refused to surrender, according to officials.

The Ukrainian government later announced that the pilot had received a $500,000 reward in local currency and encouraged other Russian service members to follow suit.

Kuzminov recounted how his defection came about in a September interview published by Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence.

“I contacted representatives of Ukrainian intelligence, explained my situation, to which they offered this option: ‘Come on, we guarantee your safety, guarantee new documents, guarantee monetary compensation, a reward,’” he said.

According to a Ukrainian intelligence official, Kuzminov ignored instructions from the Ukrainian government not to leave the country, where security services could have provided him with a degree of protection.

Kuzminov did not want to stay in Ukraine, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal discussions. The Russian pilot “broke protocol” by leaving for Spain, the official added.

Shane Harris in Washington and Paul Schemm in London contributed to this report.  » …
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