A Russian military helicopter was shot down in Armenia near the border with Azerbaijan on Monday, the defense ministry in Moscow said, killing two crew members.
The ministry said that the Mi-24 helicopter was hit by a man-portable air defense system close to the border with Azerbaijan, whose forces are fighting Armenian-backed separatists in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
A third person was injured and evacuated, the ministry said in a statement. The helicopter was shot down near the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, a landlocked exclave of Azerbaijan, the statement said.
Read more: Azerbaijan captures Karabakh town of Shusha
The defense ministry said that the helicopter was shot down near the village of Yeraskh at around 1430 GMT as it accompanied a convoy of Russia’s military base in Armenia. A probe at the Russian base was under way, the ministry said.
Armenian authorities for their part said the Russian helicopter had crashed “in a gorge” near the village of Yeraskh. The incident came during a spike in fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenian separatists.
Azerbaijan said on Sunday its forces had captured the strategic town of Susha, but Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Monday that fighting was continuing.
'Azerbaijan's foreign ministry apologised to Russia, saying the Mi-24 gunship was shot down by Azerbaijani forces near Nakhchivan by mistake.' https://t.co/HiaHM77qWR
— Borzou Daragahi 🖊🗒 (@borzou) November 9, 2020
Russia, which has a military alliance with Armenia, has said it would only intervene if fighting reached Armenian soil, after Pashinyan asked President Vladimir Putin to begin “urgent” consultations on security assistance.
New clashes broke out in late September between Azerbaijan and Armenian-backed separatists over Nagorno-Karabakh, which declared its independence nearly 30 years ago. The recent fighting has been the worst in decades, with at least 1,000 people killed including dozens of civilians, with the death toll believed to be much higher.
Azerbaijan apologises for shooting down Russian helicopter
“The Azerbaijani side offers an apology to the Russian side in connection with this tragic incident,” the foreign ministry said in a statement, adding the move was an accident and “not aimed against” Moscow.
The foreign ministry said the helicopter flew at a low altitude during hours of darkness and close to the state border between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Read more: Armenia, Azerbaijan agree to new ceasefire after Putin warning
“Helicopters of the Russian air force had not been previously sighted in the area,” the statement added.
Baku said Azerbaijani forces decided to open fire due to heightened tensions amid fighting with Armenian separatists. It offered its condolences to the families of those killed and said it was ready to pay compensation.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk