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Russia spy chief calls military pilot who defected to Ukraine a "moral corpse" after reported murder in Spain

Moscow — Russia's spy chief on Tuesday said a pilot who defected to Ukraine with a military helicopter and was reportedly shot dead in Spain last week was a "moral corpse." Maxim Kuzminov flew his Mi-8 helicopter into Ukraine in August in a brazen operation, saying he opposed Russia's military offensive.

Reports in Spanish media said Kuzminov was found shot dead in the southern town of Villajoyosa last week, where he had moved after receiving Ukrainian citizenship for switching sides.

A spokesperson for Ukraine's main intelligence directorate later confirmed that Kuzminov had died but didn't provide further details.

"This traitor and criminal became a moral corpse at the very moment when he planned his dirty and terrible crime," Russian state news agencies quoted Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia's SVR foreign intelligence service, as saying on Tuesday. He did not confirm or deny any Russian involvement in the former pilot's death.

Russian military helicopter pilot Maxim Kuzminov, who defected to Ukraine, appears in a video released by Ukraine's Defense Intelligence agency in September 2023. GRU/Anton Gerashchenko/X

In October, Russian state TV reported that Russia's GRU intelligence agency had "been given the order" to eliminate Kuzminov.

"It's just a matter of time," a journalist for Russia's Perviy Kanal said in a TV report after talking to Russian special forces, who claimed to be on the hunt for the "traitor."

The Kremlin said on Tuesday it did not have any information on Kuzminov's death.

It comes as the U.S. and other nations consider their response to the death of leading Russian political opposition figure Alexey Navalny, whom the country's prison authorities claim suffered "sudden death syndrome" at a remote Arctic penal colony on Friday. 

President Biden quickly blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for Navalny's death in custody, and on Monday he said the U.S. was "considering additional sanctions" against Russia over the dissident's suspicious demise.

Kuzminov served in the 319th separate helicopter regiment based in Russia's Far Eastern Primorye region. Two fellow servicemen on the helicopter were not aware of his plans and were killed when they tried to flee after it landed in Ukraine.

Kuzminov featured in a propaganda video released in September by Ukraine's defense intelligence agency, titled "Downed pilots of Russia." 

"No one wants this war," the pilot, said by Ukrainian government advisor Anton Gerashchenko to have been 28, says in the video, which also includes clips of his helicopter touching down. "You will see when Ukraine wins, it is only a matter of time."

Authorities in Spain said they were investigating the death of a person found with multiple gunshot wounds last week but could not confirm the person's identity.

"Last Tuesday, a person was found dead with several gunshot wounds in Villajoyosa," a spokeswoman from Spain's interior ministry told AFP. "In the course of the investigation, it was found that the identity that this person was using could be false. The Guardia Civil is trying to confirm his identity."

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