Russian news outlet 66.RU released a video on September 19 showing two Russian military helicopters accidentally firing missiles toward civilian spectators. The incident occurred near St. Petersburg at the Luzhsky range near St. Petersburg, which is one of the sites of Zapad 2017, a joint military exercise between Russia and Belarus.
The video shows two helicopters hovering over a field before firing air-to-surface missiles. The rockets destroyed two cars and seriously injured at least two people thought to be journalists. The Russian military issued a statement explaining, “The guidance system of one of the helicopters captured the wrong target by mistake. As a result, the missile flew into one of the trucks.”
The Russian military did not dispute the authenticity of the video. However, the military’s official statement denied that the mishap occurred when President Vladimir Putin visited the firing range. Additionally, the representative did not acknowledge any injuries, asserting that “all messages on social networks about ‘volleys on a crowd of journalists’ and ‘a large number of seriously wounded [victims]’ are deliberate provocation or someone’s personal stupidity.”
The Zapad exercises began on September 14 and ended on September 20. 66.RU claimed that an anonymous witness supplied the video. The drills, which took place on nine different training sites across Russia and Belarus, involved 12,700 soldiers from both countries and hundreds of tanks, warships, and aircrafts, among other military hardware.
These military exercises are meant to display the strength and force of a Russian and Belarusian military response to a potential attack from a western coalition. However, Belarus raised concerns before the exercises that Russia planned to maintain a military presence after the conclusion of Zapad. Additionally, defense planners in the Baltic states noted that Russia used similar military drills to disguise its preparation for invading Crimea. Despite such suspicions, Russia removed all military operations from Belarus after the exercises concluded.