A Russian military helicopter was shot down while patrolling near the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, two countries currently in the midst of a weeks-long deadly flare-up of a long-running ethno-territorial conflict that threatens to engulf regional powers such as Moscow.
Azerbaijan has taken responsibility for what it described as an accident, but the consequences could be profound.
The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed on Monday that one of its Mil Mi-24 attack helicopters was shot down by MANPAD (man-portable air-defense system) fire while accompanying a convoy of troops attached to Russia’s 102nd military base through Armenian territory near Yersakh, a village on the border of Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan exclave, which also borders Iran and Turkey, Russian state media reported.
Two crew members were killed when the helicopter crashed into a mountainous area on Armenian territory, the statement said. The Armenian Ministry of Emergency Situations identified the crash site as a gorge between the villages of Yersakh and Paruyr Sevak and sent an intervention team to put out the fire and recover three people, two dead and one injured.
The perpetrator was initially not identified, and the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that an investigation had been initiated.
“The command of the 102nd Russian military base is conducting an investigation to determine the identity of the people who fired on the Russian helicopter,” the Ministry announced.
The Russian state news agency Tass then reported that the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry had taken responsibility, expressed its condolences and offered compensation. For its part, the Armenian Ministry of Defense has also offered its help.
Russia and Armenia are defense allies within the framework of the organization of the Collective Security Treaty alongside the former Soviet states Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Azerbaijan, which also belonged to the former Soviet Union, was also once a member, but in 1999 it joined Georgia and Uzbekistan, which rejected renewal and instead sought better relations with the West.
Russia supported Armenia in its last major conflict with Azerbaijan over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, a 1,700-square-mile strip of land largely controlled by ethnic Armenians after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, including by Russia.
Moscow has not ruled out intervention in the recent conflict that broke out in late September. However, President Vladimir Putin has specified that his defense commitments apply only to Armenian territory, not to the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, whose co-chairs are France, Russia, and the United States, has been charged with maintaining peace and has endeavored to ward off the violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The role of Azerbaijan’s closest regional partner, Turkey, is an aggravating factor. Ankara is also a member of the Minsk Group, albeit not as co-chair, and has offered its full support for Baku’s progress in reclaiming Nagorno-Karabakh.
This is developing news. More information will be added as it becomes available.