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Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine is dead: Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence

By Victoria Butenko, Andrew Carey and Al Goodman, CNN

(CNN) — Maxim Kuzminov, a Russian pilot who dramatically defected to Ukraine by flying his helicopter across the border, is dead, according to Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR).

The news comes after the Spanish Civil Guard in Alicante province told CNN that a man had been shot to death on February 13 inside the parking garage of an apartment building in Villajoyosa, a seaside resort on the Mediterranean Sea.

Initially, the Civil Guard said the victim was a 33-year-old Ukrainian but later said the identity of the body was still to be determined and part of an investigation, which had been sealed by a judge.

A source at Ukraine’s GUR confirmed to CNN the body of the man found in Spain was that of Kuzminov, but would not comment on how he had died.

The remains of the man shot inside the garage are thought to still be in Alicante province under the supervision of forensic examiners.

The shooting took place in a neighborhood where some Russian and Ukrainian expatriates have settled since the war began, according to the Villajoyosa city hall press office.

Asked Tuesday whether Russia had any knowledge of the death, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow had no information on the matter.

Russian Foreign Intelligence Director Sergey Naryshkin would also not comment directly on Kuzminov’s death, but told reporters the defector had become “a moral corpse the moment he began planning his dirty and terrible crime,” Russia’s RIA Novosti reported.

Shortly after Kuzminov’s defection, Russian TV aired a segment about him on the “Vesti Nedeli” program, which carried a clear threat to the defector’s life. In the program, a reporter said that Russia’s own military intelligence agency had already received their order with regard to Kuzminov, adding that, “its fulfillment is only a matter of time.”

Later in the segment, a man in a military uniform, whose face is shown covered, says: “We can’t let such a thing go, we will punish him for such actions.”

The Freedom for Russia Legion – a group associated with Ukraine’s GUR made up of Russian nationals fighting for Ukraine – expressed their condolences to family and friends of Kuzminov, saying he was a “real warrior and honest man.”

“Ukraine fulfilled all its obligations to Maxim, he received the promised monetary reward for the delivered equipment and had the opportunity to choose to stay in Ukraine and live in peace, continue serving in one of the units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, or go to the EU,” the Legion said in a statement.

‘Let’s give it a try’

Kuzminov defected in August after Kyiv got his family out of Russia undetected, the head of the GUR, Kyrolo Budanov, told Radio Liberty last year. Budanov said it was the first successful operation of its kind.

When Kuzminov flew into Ukraine, the two other Russian service members on board the Mi-8 helicopter with him did not know what was happening. The pair were killed while trying to escape after they realized they had landed in Ukraine.

“We would prefer (to take) them alive, but it is what it is,” Budanov said at the time.

In an interview published by the GUR in September, Kuzminov recounted the defection. He told reporters he fled Russia because he was opposed to the war.

“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,’” the pilot said.

His defection seemingly came last minute during a flight near the border.

After relaying his location, he said “let’s give it a try, I’m not that far away.”

“Having made a final decision, I flew at an extremely low altitude in radio silence mode. No one understood what was going on with me at all,” Kuzminov said.

CNN’s Victoria Butenko and Andrew Carey reported from Kyiv, Ukraine, and Al Goodman from Madrid

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