Moscow sent hitmen who gunned down a Russian deserter in Spain last week, six months after fleeing to Ukraine in his helicopter, El Pais newspaper reported Thursday, citing Spanish intelligence sources. 

"The Spanish intelligence services have no doubt that the long arm of the Kremlin was behind this unprecedented crime in Spain: the murder in Alicante of Maxim Kuzminov," the paper said. 

The victim's body, which was riddled with six bullets, was found on February 13 in Villajoyosa, 12 kilometres (seven miles) from the coastal resort of Benidorm, and Spanish media on Monday said his fingerprints identified him as Kuzminov. 

Kuzminov, 33, flew his Mi-8 helicopter into Ukraine in August saying he opposed Russia's military offensive, with Kiev's GUR military intelligence confirming his death. 

Although Russia's SVR foreign intelligence service hailed news of Kuzminov's death, it did not confirm or deny Moscow's involvement. 

Spanish intelligence sources quoted by El Pais said the only question was whether the operation was carried out by the SVR, the FSB security service or Russia's GRU intelligence agency. 

But they admitted it would be "very difficult" to obtain incriminating evidence. 

The paper, which is known for its connections to circles of power, also quoted diplomatic sources as saying that the incident was "very serious" and that Spain would "respond forcefully" if Moscow's involvement was confirmed. 

- Russian glee over pilot's murder -

Spanish officials have until now refused to confirm the victim was Kuzminov. 

A spokesman for the Guardia Civil police, which is running the investigation, told AFP on Thursday that there was no new information on the case, and the interior ministry refused to comment. 

Contacted by AFP, the defence ministry, which is responsible for Spain's intelligence services, said: "Let the police do their work and carry out the investigation", parroting the government's official line. 

Spanish intelligence officials believe the shooting, which occurred in an area with a big Russian population and was initially thought to be a "settling of scores", was carried out by hitmen who have already left Spain. 

After shooting Kuzminov six times, they ran him over with his own car and then fled, they said. 

The car was later found completely burnt out in a nearby town. 

When Kuzminov deserted, there were two other Russian servicemen on board his helicopter who were unaware of his plans. 

They were killed when they tried to flee after the chopper landed in Ukraine, according to Kiev's military intelligence services, which said it had spent six months planning Kuzminov's defection. 

Russia's SVR chief Sergei Naryshkin on Tuesday hailed news of the pilot's death. 

"This traitor and criminal became a moral corpse at the very moment when he planned his dirty and terrible crime," he said in remarks reported by Russian state news agencies. 


2024-02-22T12:58:29Z dg43tfdfdgfd