According to Russian media outlets, two or three people were wounded when a KA-52 helicopter participating in the massive Russian War Games “Zapad ‘17” accidentally fired on a crowd of spectators that had been invited to witness the training cycle.
The Russian military, however, contested these reports as “purposeful provocation or someone’s personal stupidity,” claiming that the rocket had been fired at an empty truck during the scheduled training, and that no one had been injured. According to state-owned Russian NTV Television, no spectators were injured, but two cars were damaged in the incident.
Despite these claims, a news site based in Russia called 66.RU offered up footage of the event, adding that two spectators had been hospitalized due to serious injuries when what is believed to have been a C-8 rocket struck the vehicle.
“At least two cars burned down, two people were seriously injured, they are now hospitalized,” 66.RU’s source said. “The victims were most likely journalists.”
Other news sites within Russia, including the Moscow Times, have reported the same, with a few indicating that there may have been three serious injuries, rather than two.
“No incidents involving army aviation happened in playing an episode of practical actions during the Zapad 2017 strategic exercise on Sept. 18,” said the news service of Russia’s Western Military District.
Russia’s lack of transparency regarding this incident is hardly a surprise to those in the West following the Zapad drills, which commence every four years in Belarus. The last time Russia took part in these exercises was in 2013, when they claimed that the Russian military would be sending fewer than 13,000 troops to the nation bordering NATO allies in the Baltics. Once the drills had commenced however, satellite imagery proved there to be more than 90,000 troops, violating a Cold War era agreement that would have forced Russia to permit NATO observers to attend the drills.
This year, Russia made similar claims about the intended size of the Zapad (which means west) drills, but NATO officials actually expect this Zapad rotation to be even larger than the last one. Prompting further concern, it is widely believed that Russian assets left behind after the 2013 Zapad drills were later employed in the Russian military annexation of Crimea, south of where the drills were held.
Russian President Vladimir Putin opted to skip the 72nd United Nations General Assembly, in which President Trump spoke regarding tensions with North Korea on Tuesday, in favor of attending the Zapad drills.
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