Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war games went wrong when a helicopter apparently opened fire on civilians with air-to-surface missiles, it is reported.
Two people are said to have been seriously injured after the Ka-52 aircraft allegedly launched a missile at an enclosure for spectators near St Petersburg.
Footage appears to show the helicopter accidentally opening fire on the civilians – thought to be journalists – during the games, which have alarmed governments in Europe.
Reports in Russia suggest the two victims are likely to be reporters covering the controversial Zapad military training exercises, which have been overseen by Putin.
The incident is believed to have happened at the Luzhsky military field, where a missile was reportedly seen striking close to the spot where a cameraman was filming.
A source told Russian news website 66.ru : “Something went wrong, the missiles were immediately launched.
“The parts of the missiles hit a large area, at least two cars were burned, two people wounded, they are in the hospital now. Most likely, the victims were journalists.”
The Ka-52 Alligator helicopter is the newest intelligence and attack helicopter able to attack armoured vehicles and people.
The unnamed source said the rockets were fired early as a result of a short circuit, although this remains unconfirmed.
Journalists from Russia, Belarus and many other countries – including the West – have been accredited for the Zapad war games – a huge show of military force which has worried NATO members.
According to a report by Russia’s Western Military District press office on 17 September the specific exercise at Luzhsky involved Mi-28H and Ka-52 helicopters performing training missions involving air intelligence and attacks on ground targets.
They were meant to be “covering troops from the air”.
Quizzed about the incident, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “This question should be addressed to the ministry of defence and not to the president’s administration.”
A statement by the Western Military District said there were “no incidents related to army aviation” on September 18, implying it could have happened at a different place and time.
The 66.ru report said the incident could have been on September 18 or 19.
The clip shows two helicopters approaching a row of cars and spectators.
One of the helicopters suddenly appears to fire on the ground in the direction of the person holding the camera, who starts running.
Attempts have reportedly been made to remove the video from the internet.
St Petersburg-based website Fontanka.ru said it was aware that military investigators were looking into the incident and are considering launching a criminal case on suspected violations of safety rules governing the use of military combat equipment.
The news agency had a slightly different video.
The current joint military exercises, known as Zapad, are among the largest Russia has conducted since the end of the Cold War.
They are being conducted jointly with close ally Belarus.
Officially, they involve 12,700 soldiers deployed in both countries, with most of the training taking place on Belarusian soil.
Western and Belarusian observers have put the number of Russian troops involved in the war games at between 70,000 and 120,000.
Anxious neighbours fear the military is rehearsing for war on the West, while Russia has said its drills are purely to practise defensive tactics.
Putin on Monday watched one of the Zapad drills at a training range near St. Petersburg.