North Atlantic Treaty Organisation officials say they are monitoring the "Zapad-2017" or "West-2017" war games with "calm and confidence", but many are unnerved about what they see as Moscow testing its ability to wage war against the West. Russia says the exercise is rehearsing a purely defensive scenario.
The incident reportedly took place at the Luzhsky range near St. Petersburg either on Monday or Sunday.
A revitalized Russian military on Monday sent tanks, paratroopers, artillery, antiaircraft weapons, jets and helicopters into frigid rains to engage the forces of a mock enemy called the "Western Coalition".
A source told the website: "They flew to the target, there were 500 metres left, on the mission on the combat path, the weapons chains were switched on, they turned on, but there something was shortened, and the missiles descended". The missiles fired on their own accord because of a technical glitch and seriously injured audience members, who "were most likely journalists", according to an unnamed source who spoke to the Russian news site 66.ru.
Putin, commander-in-chief of Russia's armed forces, sat in a command center flanked by his defense minister and the chief of his General Staff, and used binoculars to peer through a cold drizzle at the simulated conflict unfolding before his eyes.
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A helicopter accidentally fired at civilians during Russia's Zapad 2017 wargames, an event which was captured on video by bystanders.
The news service did acknowledge that one of the helicopters hit the wrong target.
The helicopter drill was part of Zapad, a large-scale joint military exercise with Belarus taking place close to Russia's border with Estonia.
Russian Federation put on a display of heavy firepower for president Vladimir Putin and foreign media gathered Monday to watch military exercises that are believed to be some of the largest held since the end of the Cold War.
"As a result of a strike by an unguided rocket, a cargo vehicle with no people on board was damaged", Interfax quoted a representative of the military district as saying.