A Russian helicopter accidentally discharged a rocket onto people watching from the ground. The accident occurred during military exercises on Monday, September 18, 2017. The exercises were performed close to Nato borders. As a result, three people were reported injured.
Reports on the incident have varied, and the Russian Ministry of Defense denies any injuries occurred.
The official name of the exercise is the Zapad 2017 drills. Zapad 2017 is scheduled to go from Thursday, September 14 until Wednesday, September 20.
A video has emerged of what looks like a show rocket from a Ka-52 Alligator, a combat helicopter, exploding in close proximity of a group of men wearing camouflage attire. In the footage, one person appears to be knocked to the ground as a result of the rocket.
It was reported that Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, attended the Zapad drills on the day the drills took place.
One source, Fontanka, said the helicopter fired three rockets. A source connected to the Russian Ministry of Defense said, “They weren’t civilians.”
Interfax said they spoke with a military official. “As a result of the strike by an unguided rocket, a cargo vehicle with no people on board was damaged” a military official said.
According to the The Moscow Times, “Two people were hospitalized with serious injuries after a helicopter accidentally fired on bystanders at the Zapad 2017 military exercises.”
The Ministry of Defense has not released much information on the incident. In addition, the Ministry of Defense did not say if the accident took place during the Zapad drills. Instead, the ministry insists that no injuries or death took place. According to the Ministry of Defense, reports of injury were “either a deliberate provocation or someone’s individual stupidity.”
Another report said the incident occurred at Luzhsky firing range, which is located near St. Petersburg.
Aside from Russian military, Belarusian military are participating in Zapad 2017. Some have called it the “the biggest war games” since the end of the Cold War. The exercises are designed to simulate what it would be like to fend off an attack from Western powers. Russia said that around 12,700 of the troops were participating in the simulation. In addition, 70 planes or helicopters were going to take part in the event as well as 280 tanks, 200 artillery weapons and 10 ships.
The number of troops involved in the exercises has been debated. German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said the number was closer to 100,000. The number of troops is important because any military exercise involving more than 13,000 troops has regulations—the country has to officially invite foreign officials to watch the exercise according to the international agreement.
In the past, Russia was accused of using these drills to prepare for its Ukraine invasion in 2014. Lithuania’s Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis expressed concerns about the Russian troops. “We can’t be totally calm,” Karoblis said. “There is a large foreign army massed next to Lithuanian territory.”
Russia has denied these claims and said the exercises are “strictly defensive” in nature.
On Friday, September 8, 2017, 200 people protested Zapad 2017 in Belarus. Slogans that appeared said, “Russia, go home,” and “This is our country, there will be no Russia here.” According to reports, the protests were broken up “harshly,” but no arrests occurred.