A Russian helicopter, part of Zapad military exercises, accidentally fired missiles at audience members and resulted in at least two people with serious injuries.
Russia’s week-long Zapad military exercises went disastrously wrong either Monday or Sunday when one of the helicopters fired several missiles at audience members, The Moscow Times reports. The missiles fired on their own accord because of a technical glitch and seriously injured audience members, who “were most likely journalists,” according to an unnamed source who spoke to the Russian news site 66.ru. The two hurt individuals were sent to the hospital.
The Russian Defense Ministry’s news service denied that the incident took place on Monday, which is the day when Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the region. The news service stated that claims circulating on social media about helicopters firing on a crowd of journalists constituted “deliberate provocation or someone’s personal stupidity.”
The news service did acknowledge that one of the helicopters hit the wrong target.
The military exercises are taking place from Sept. 14-20 in western Russia and include 13,000 military personnel from Russia and Belarus. Western officials believe troop numbers could escalate to as many as 100,000, causing anxiety in nearby Baltic states and other countries.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite warned the exercises could lead to war with NATO, or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“We are anxious about this drill…it is an open preparation for war with the West,” Grybauskaite told reporters.
Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz speculated that Russia may leave behind troops in Belarus. Such a move would impact the “balance of power on NATO’s eastern flank.” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Sept. 8 the exercises could be a “smokescreen” for yet another invasion of Ukraine.
In July, Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army Europe, stated that the Zapad exercises may be a “Trojan horse” for the purpose of surreptitiously leaving behind military gear in Belarus.
“People are worried, this is a Trojan horse. They say, ‘We’re just doing an exercise,’ and then all of a sudden they’ve moved all these people and capabilities somewhere,” Hodges told Reuters.
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