The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan released a statement today admitting responsibility for shooting down a Russian Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter by mistake. The shootdown occurred around 6:30 PM local time near the Nakchivan border, around 60 miles from the current fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh.
A video purportedly of a fire at the crash site had been circulating on social media earlier today, and the Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed the loss of the Mi-24, stating that two members of the Mi-24’s crew had been killed in the crash, with one injured survivor. According to them, the crash site was near the Armenian village of Yeraskh, and the Mi-24 had been escorting a Russian military convoy to the Russian military base in Gyumri.
The statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the Mi-24 had been flying near the Armenia-Azerbaijian border at low altitude after dark, and had not been detected by Azerbaijani air defense radars. Additionally, Russian Mi-24 flights had not been previously seen in the area, resulting in the Azerbaijani air defense system crew, already on edge for possible Armenian “provocations”, making the decision to engage.
The statement continued with a formal apology to the Russian government for the shootdown, emphasizing that it was an accident. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed condolences to the next of kin of the deceased crew members and wished for the quick recovery of the injured, concluding by declaring that the Azerbaijani government is ready to pay “appropriate compensation” for the incident.
According to Liveuamap, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, of which Armenia and Russia are both members, has expressed “serious concern” over the shootdown, in line with all their previous statements made since fighting started in October.
The bizarre incident comes shortly after the government of the self-declared Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh conceded today that Shusha (Shushi in Armenian) had indeed been captured by Azerbaijani forces following claims by the Azerbaijani government earlier today. It remains to be seen what influence an incident far from the frontlines can have on the fighting, but it could reinvigorate efforts to bring the belligerent parties to the negotiating table instead of a drawn out siege of the republic’s capital of Stepanarkert, just down the road from Shusha. Or, indeed, further deadly incidents of mistaken identity.
UPDATE: The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has since issued a statement on their Telegram channel, saying that they “assess positively” Azerbaijan’s immediate admission of guilt, in addition to noting Azerbaijani assurances of a prompt investigation into the incident and punishment for the guilty individuals.