Two Russian airmen have been killed, and a third injured after a Mi-24 military helicopter was shot down by Azerbaijani forces earlier today (Monday).
The incident happened “in the airspace near the Armenian settlement of Yeraskh, near the border of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic,” according to a statement from the Russian defence ministry.
Reports say the helicopter was escorting a convoy from Russia’s 102nd military base, just outside Armenia’s second-largest city Gyumri, when it was shot down by a MANPADS anti-aircraft missile system operated by Azerbaijani troops.
Video footage from the scene shows the wreckage ablaze, and barely recognisable as a helicopter.
According to the Moscow Times, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry has already released a statement apologising what was it describes as the “accidental” missile launch.
It said: “Azerbaijan apologises to Russia in connection with this tragic accident, which was accidental and not directed against the Russian side.”
Russian sources have confirmed the deaths of the two helicopter crew and say that an investigation to establish responsibility for the downing of the Mi-24.
The Azerbaijanis are fighting against the Armenian army in what Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has described as a “clash of civilisations”.
Predominantly Christian Armenia is in a struggle with majority-Muslim Azerbaijan for control of Karabakh.
The situation is complicated by reports of Syrian militants operating in the Karabakh region, as well as the Russian military involvement.
Azerbaijan seems to be gaining the upper hand in the struggle, largely through the use of state-of-the-art drones supplied by Turkey and Israel.
The country’s president Ilham Aliyev has announced that his country’s soldiers had seized Shushi, the most significant military development in the fighting over the territory.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International which said they have evidence that both sides are using banned weapons and have killed civilians in the increasingly bloody conflict, which threatens to spill out across the region.
Up to 5,000 people are thought to have died since Azerbaijan launched an offensive to reclaim the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh in late September.
While the mountainous region is technically Armenian territory it has been occupied by Azerbaijan in 1994.
Several ceasefires have been brokered by both Turkish and Russian diplomats but in every case they have collapsed almost instantly, with both sides accusing the other of firing the first shot.
The two former communist states have been at odds since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s.