MOSCOW: A Russian military helicopter was shot down in Armenia near the border with Azerbaijan on Monday, the defence ministry in Moscow said, killing two crew members.
The ministry said that the Mi-24 helicopter was hit by a man-portable air defence 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 defence ministry said that the helicopter was shot down near the village of Yeraskh when it accompanied a convoy of Russia’s military base in Armenia.
A probe at the Russian base was under way.
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.
Russia, which has a military alliance with Armenia, has said it would only intervene if fighting reached Armenian soil, after the country’s premier asked President Vladimir Putin to begin “urgent” consultations on security assistance.
Fresh 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.
Azeri troops advance on main city
Azerbaijan’s armed forces were edging closer to Nagorno-Karabakh’s seat of power on Monday after proclaiming victory in the battle for the enclave’s second-largest city.
After six weeks of heavy fighting, Azerbaijan said on Sunday it had captured Shusha, which is known by Armenians as Shushi and sits on a mountain top overlooking Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh’s biggest city.
Nagorno-Karabakh’s leaders had denied losing control of the city and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan continued to do so on Monday, saying that fighting for the city was still raging.
But an Azeri defence ministry video posted online showed Azerbaijan’s national flag flying over deserted streets in what it said was Shusha, and Vahram Poghosyan, a spokesman for Nagorno-Karabakh leader Arayik Harutyunyan, wrote on Facebook: “Shusha city is not in our control. We should keep it together as the enemy is near Stepanakert,” he wrote.
Shusha lies about 15 km south of Stepanakert and is important to ethnic Armenian hopes of keeping control of Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway territory which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians.
Emboldened by Turkish support, Azerbaijan says it has since Sept 27 retaken much of the land in and around Nagorno-Karabakh that it lost in a 1991-94 war. That war killed an estimated 30,000 people and forced many more from their homes.
Armenia has denied the extent of Azerbaijan’s territorial gains.