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NYT: Murder of Russian pilot in Spain bears similarities to earlier Moscow-linked killings

by Kateryna Denisova and The Kyiv Independent news desk April 1, 2024 4:13 PM 2 min read
Maksim Kuzminov, the Russian helicopter pilot who defected to Ukraine, in Kyiv on Sept. 5, 2023. (Ukrinform)
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The murder of Maksim Kuzminov, a Russian helicopter pilot who defected to Ukraine, is similar to previous attacks in Europe linked to Moscow, but no evidence of direct Kremlin involvement has emerged so far, the New York Times (NYT) reported on March 31, citing unnamed senior police officials.

Kuzminov's death in Spain was first reported and confirmed by Ukraine's military intelligence on Feb. 19.

The pilot was shot six times in a parking garage in the city of Villajoyosa on Feb. 13, according to the NYT. At the crime scene, law enforcement officers found shell casings from 9 mm Makarov rounds, a weapon widely used in former Soviet countries, the newspaper reported.

Two men waited for Kuzminov in a car under the apartment building for several hours and ran over his body after shooting him, police officials said. They called the killers "clearly professionals," who quickly disappeared. The car was reportedly found burned miles away from the attack site.

"It was a clear message. I will find you, I will kill you, I will run you over and humiliate you," a senior official from the Spanish police force overseeing the investigation into the killing told the NYT.

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Kuzminov's murder raised fears that Russian spy networks in Europe continued to operate, targeting "enemies of the Kremlin" despite efforts to destroy them after the start of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the newspaper wrote.

The killing bore similarities to earlier murders linked to Russian intelligence services, including the murder of an exiled Chechen-Georgian dissident, Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, in Berlin in 2019 and the poisoning of ex-GRU officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yuliia Skripal in the U.K. in 2018, senior police officials told the NYT.

Unnamed Ukrainian senior officials told the NYT about concerns that Kuzminov's murder could discourage other Russians from following his example.

Kuzminov made headlines in August 2023 after he landed a fully intact Mi-8 helicopter in Ukraine and gave himself up to authorities. Andrii Yusov, a spokesperson for Ukraine's military intelligence, later said that Kuzminov would receive the hryvnia equivalent of $500,000 (approximately Hr 19.6 million) as a reward for defecting with the helicopter.

Spanish media confirms identity of murdered Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine
Maksim Kuzminov’s death in Spain was first reported on Feb. 19 by Ukrainska Pravda and other Ukrainian media outlets, citing the press service of Ukraine’s military intelligence.
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