Russian Pilot Encourages Others to Join His Defection to Ukraine

( – The Ukrainian government named on September 5 a Russian helicopter pilot who reportedly switched sides in August due to his opposition to the Kremlin’s decision to invade Ukraine. The government of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also said that the pilot crossed the border as part of a special operation planned by Kyiv.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate identified the 28-year-old Russian pilot as Maxim Kuzminov. In a statement, the agency said he served in the 319th helicopter regiment, which is based in the Russian eastern region of Primorje.

The directorate also described that it managed to conduct this operation in “maximum secrecy” by initially recruiting Kuzminov, after determining he was against the invasion. It added it decided to help him flying into Ukraine, and noted that two of the Mi-8 helicopter’s team were killed on arrival as they refused to surrender. The agency said these two individuals didn’t know that the pilot was planning to defect to Ukraine.

The directorate also published a video of the Russian pilot, who says he was offered a new identity, monetary compensation, and security guarantee. Kuzminov also said in the footage published by the Ukrainian government that he discussed the operation details with the directorate, and transmitted his exact location as he was flying at a low altitude with his radio on silence mode. The pilot also said he encourages other Russian soldiers to do what he did.

Since the war began in February 2022, the Ukrainian government has been trying to incentivize Russian soldiers to betray the Kremlin and defect to Ukraine. Different reports have been pointing out that while this isn’t the first defection, it remains unclear how many Russian military personnel have switched sides so far.

Last year, the Verkhovna Rada Ukrainian parliament passed a law aimed at targeting demoralized Russian troops in the front. The law offered monetary rewards to every soldier who decided to switch said while wearing their uniform and military equipment. The legislation points out that a helicopter fetches between $450,000 and $500,000.

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