Russian Helicopter Fires Rocket at Military Exercise Onlookers

Defense Ministry says incident was an accident

• September 19, 2017 2:37 pm


A Russian helicopter fired a rocket into a group of onlookers while conducting large-scale military exercises near NATO's border, Russian media reported Tuesday.

Three non-civilians were injured according to an individual with ties to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the Guardian reports.

The strike was launched by a Ka-52 "Alligator" helicopter. RBC news agency posted a video of what appears to be the combat helicopter approaching, followed by an explosion close to a group of men dressed in camouflage fatigues.

The Ministry of Defense denied the incident at first, but officials later admitted an incident occurred after video became public. The strike was "either a deliberate provocation or someone’s individual stupidity," according to officials.

A ministry spokesman told the Interfax news agency that the helicopter's targeting system mistakenly locked onto a parked vehicle while conducting drills.

Officials did not clarify whether the accident had taken place as part of the Zapad "war games."

The Zapad drills have been conducted in Russia and Belarus, beginning Sept. 14, and are scheduled to end Sept. 20. They simulate a fight against NATO-backed separatists. Russia says about 12,700 troops are participating in the drills, according to Vox.

But foreign officials, including German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, believe the number is closer to 100,000. That’s significant because if a military exercise involves 13,000 troops or more, then foreign officials must be formally invited to watch, according to an international agreement — and the 12,700 number is suspiciously just under that mark.

Western leaders are especially worried about the exercise. NATO accused Russia of using the last Zapad drills in 2013 to prepare for its invasion of Ukraine the following year. Now some leaders, such as Lithuania’s Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis, fear having Russian troops amassed near NATO territory. "We can't be totally calm. There is a large foreign army massed next to Lithuanian territory," Karoblis told Reuters.

Russia has denied any such charges and said the drills are "strictly defensive" in nature.

Published under: Military, NATO, Russia