Killing of a Russian defector raises fears of hit squads


The individuals who murdered Maxim Kuzminov wished to ship a message. It turned clear even earlier than investigators in Spain knew who he was. The killers not solely shot him six occasions in a parking storage in southern Spain, but in addition crushed his physique with their automotive.

Based on investigators, he additionally left behind a key clue to his identification: shell casings from 9-millimeter Makarov rounds, a typical ammunition of the previous Communist bloc.

“It was a transparent message,” stated a senior official of the Guardia Civil, the Spanish police power overseeing the homicide investigation. “I’ll discover you, I’ll kill you, I’ll run you over and humiliate you.”

Mr. Kuzminov defected from Russia to Ukraine final summer season, flew his Mi-8 army helicopter over Ukrainian territory and handed the airplane over to Ukrainian intelligence operatives together with a storehouse of categorised paperwork. In doing so, he dedicated against the law that Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has repeatedly stated he would by no means forgive: betrayal.

His killing final month within the seaside resort city of Villajoyosa has raised fears that Russia's European spy networks are persevering with to function and goal the Kremlin's enemies, forward of Mr Putin's 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Regardless of concerted efforts to remove them.

Andrei Soldatov, an writer and professional on Russia's army and safety providers, stated Russia's intelligence providers have been deployed on a struggle footing and have begun to function at a stage of aggression at dwelling and overseas paying homage to the Stalin period.

“It’s not about conventional espionage,” he stated. “It's about operations – and these operations might also embrace killings.”

In Spain, Mr Kuzminov was dwelling a “disorderly life”, the senior Guardia Civil official stated. He went to a bar common with Russian and Ukrainian clients, and used cash he acquired from the Ukrainian state. He traveled round Villajoyosa in a black Mercedes S-Class.

Precisely how the killers discovered him has not been established, though two senior Ukrainian officers stated he had reached out to a former girlfriend, nonetheless in Russia, and invited her to go to him in Spain.

One officer stated, “It was a critical mistake.”

Senior police officers, talking on situation of anonymity, stated the killing was symptomatic of comparable assaults linked to the Kremlin, together with the 2019 killing of a former Chechen insurgent commander in Berlin and the poisoning of former Russian army intelligence operative Sergei V. Skripal. Is included. In Salisbury, England, 2018. Mr. Skripal survived.

Police officers stated the 2 hooded killers seen in surveillance digicam footage from the parking storage of Mr. Kuzminov's condominium complicated had been apparently professionals who carried out their mission and rapidly disappeared.

“It’s not frequent in Spain to shoot somebody with a considerable amount of reside ammunition,” stated Pepe Álvarez, chief of the Villajoyosa Police Division. “These are indicators that time to organized crime, legal organizations, professionals.”

Though no proof of direct Kremlin involvement has emerged, Russia had made no secret of its need to see Mr. Kuzminov lifeless. A couple of weeks after his defection, the Kremlin's signature Sunday night information program ran a section quoting fellow pilots and commandos from Russia's army intelligence service, vowing revenge.

One of many commandos, who was not recognized, stated, “We are going to discover this man and punish him with the complete severity of the legal guidelines of our nation, for treason and betraying our brothers.” “Finally we discover everybody. Our arms are lengthy.”

Mr. Kuzminov's defection was a coup for Ukraine, carried out by a secret unit within the HUR, the Ukrainian army's intelligence department. The unit focuses on recruiting Russian fighters and brokers on Russian territory to hold out sabotage operations. Some troopers within the unit have acquired particular coaching from the CIA to function in hostile environments.

A senior Ukrainian official with data of the operation stated that, though the unit was capable of persuade particular person Russians and generally small teams of troopers to insurgent, Mr. Kuzminov's brave flight – and the excessive worth of what he did – It was unprecedented.

The success of Ukraine's efforts to recruit defectors is troublesome to evaluate. Hundreds of Russian residents have joined volunteer models combating alongside Ukrainian forces and have at occasions crossed into Russian territory to hold out lightning assaults on border posts. Nevertheless, they don’t seem to have shifted the stability of energy in any vital approach.

Mr. Kuzminov stated within the interview that he turned disillusioned after studying Ukrainians' posts on the Web.

In an interview with a Ukrainian blogger he stated, “I understood who was on the facet of goodness and who was on the facet of fact.”

On the night of August 9, 2023, Mr. Kuzminov took off in a army helicopter from an airfield within the Kursk area of western Russia for a easy cargo supply to a different base within the nation. With him within the cockpit had been a technician named Nikita Kiryanov and a navigator, Khushbakht Tursunov. It appeared that not one of the troopers had been conscious of Mr. Kuzminov's plans.

Shortly after takeoff, Mr. Kuzminov turned off the helicopter's radio communications tools and flew to an altitude of lower than 20 toes to keep away from radar. Then he entered Ukraine.

In interviews with Ukrainian information media, Mr. Kuzminov was involved about what occurred subsequent. He stated solely that he had landed the helicopter at a prearranged rendezvous level within the Kharkiv space, simply 10 miles from the border, the place he was met by HUR commandos.

“Every part went nicely,” he stated in an interview.

The fact is extra complicated. Based on one other senior Ukrainian official, when Mr. Kuzminov entered the nation, he shocked a bunch of Ukrainian fighters, who opened hearth. Within the chaos, Mr. Kuzminov was shot within the leg.

What occurred to his companions is much less clear. A Russian tv report about them, citing a health worker, claimed each had been shot lifeless at shut vary and urged Mr Kuzminov had killed them earlier than they landed. A senior Ukrainian official concerned within the operation stated this was not true.

“Our troopers shot him,” the officer stated. “In any other case they might have killed Kuzminov and escaped in that helicopter.”

In interviews, Mr. Kuzminov stated that his crewmates had been unarmed, however he by no means stated how they died.

HUR apparently thought of the mission a serious success. Shortly afterward, Ukraine's army intelligence chief, Normal Kirill Budanov, introduced that the operation would give confidence to different Russian troopers who had been contemplating defection. The intelligence company additionally made a documentary movie in regards to the operation to showcase its victory.

Mr. Kuzminov went on a media tour, held a information convention, gave interviews condemning Russia's struggle and calling on others to comply with his instance.

“You received't remorse it,” he stated within the documentary. “You'll be taken care of for the remainder of your life.”

The Ukrainian authorities paid Mr. Kuzminov $500,000 and offered him with a Ukrainian passport and a pretend identify: Ihor Shevchenko. Additionally they supplied him an opportunity to hitch in combating Russia.

As a substitute, Mr. Kuzminov left Ukraine in October and moved to Villajoyosa, a small city on the Mediterranean coast common with British and Japanese European vacationers. There, he moved into residence on the ninth ground of a modest condominium constructing, a few 10-minute stroll from the seashore.

It was a curious selection for somebody clearly focused by Russian authorities for liquidation. Spanish authorities say the world is a widely known base for Russian organized crime figures, a few of whom keep ties to the nation's intelligence providers.

In 2020, Spanish police arrested greater than 20 individuals linked to Russian legal teams, a few of whom had been working from Alicante in the identical province of Villajoyosa. Spanish authorities stated the lads had been accused of laundering thousands and thousands of {dollars} earned by drug and human trafficking, extortion and contract killings.

One other Russian army defector who has settled in Spain and spoke on situation of anonymity for safety causes described the world the place Mr Kuzminov had settled as “a pink zone” filled with Russian brokers. “I’ll by no means go there,” he stated.

On the morning of February 13, a white Hyundai Tucson drove into the storage beneath Mr. Kuzminov's condominium constructing and parked in an empty house between the elevators utilized by residents and the ramp resulting in the road. Based on a senior Guardia Civil officer, the 2 males waited there for a number of hours.

At roughly 4:20 p.m., Mr. Kuzminov drove to the storage, parked the automotive, and started strolling towards the elevator. As he handed the white Hyundai, two assailants emerged, referred to as him over and opened hearth. Though he was hit by six bullets, most of them within the torso, Mr. Kuzminov managed to run a brief distance earlier than collapsing on the ramp.

The 2 killers bought again into the automotive and drove over Mr Kuzminov's physique as they bought out. The car was discovered just a few miles away, having been burned with the assistance of a particular accelerant in response to investigators. It took consultants per week to establish the make and mannequin of the automotive and set up that it had been stolen – two days earlier than the homicide – in Murcia, a metropolis about an hour away.

A particular unit within the Guardia Civil is investigating below strict confidentiality guidelines. Authorities haven’t publicly confirmed that the individual killed was Mr. Kuzminov. They’ve struggled to achieve officers in Ukraine who may also help them.

However among the many group of Russian and Ukrainian immigrants dwelling in Villajoyosa, there was no query who was behind the deaths.

“Everybody thinks the providers took him out,” stated Ivan, 31, who fled his dwelling metropolis of Kherson, Ukraine, initially of the struggle. “They're in every single place.”

Spain's annual report on nationwide safety threats revealed this month stated Russia has improved its intelligence operations within the nation following the expulsion of 27 Russian diplomats over the struggle in Ukraine. Regardless of being small in numbers, Russian spies continued to hunt methods to “destabilize Spain's assist for NATO,” the report stated.

Prior to now, Russian officers have entrenched themselves in attempting to obscure the Kremlin's connections to numerous assassinations throughout Europe, typically within the face of clear proof of state involvement. Mr. Kuzminov's case is totally different. Senior Russian officers spoke of his dying with barely hid glee.

Sergei Naryshkin, director of Russia's international intelligence service, stated, “This traitor and legal turned an ethical corpse the second he deliberate his soiled and horrible crime.”

Former President of Russia Dmitry A. “A canine will get a canine's dying,” stated Medvedev, now deputy chairman of the nation's Safety Council.

In distinction to the large fanfare that accompanied Mr. Kuzminov's defection, Ukrainian officers have remained largely quiet in regards to the killing. Senior officers fear it might discourage others from following his instance.

“Who will assist us after this?” stated one of many senior officers.

“Russia will unfold propaganda intensively – they’re already doing it – that they may discover all of the traitors,” he stated. “This can be a hidden message to different residents of Russia, particularly army personnel, that in the event you betray us we are going to discover you.”

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