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Russia rejects rumors of civilian injuries at Zapad drills

Russia's military has dismissed claims that a helicopter fired on civilians at the Zapad drills taking place near St. Petersburg, agency reports say. Video footage appeared to show the chopper shooting at bystanders.

In a statement quoted by Russia's TASS news agency on Tuesday, the Western Military District said reports that several people had been injured in an accidental helicopter gunship strike at the controversial Zapad war games were completely false.

"There were no incidents involving army aviation during an episode of the strategic exercise Zapad-2017 on September 18," the statement said.

The Russian military's denial came after footage surfaced on social media purporting to show a Ka-52 helicopter firing a rocket towards a row of parked cars and spectators during Zapad exercises at the Luzhsky range in western Russia. A second video from the same location showed the aftermath of the strike, including smashed car windows and shrapnel damage to a military truck. Neither video could be independently verified.

Read more: What are Russia's Zapad war games?

Russia: Just a 'provocation'

A report by the online news portal 66.ru also alleged the incident had happened on Sunday or Monday, and that two people had been hospitalized with serious injuries as a result of the strike - claims the Russian military rejected.

"Hundreds of Russian and foreign mass media, as well as military attaches from more than 50 countries were watching the exercise," the military's statement said, according to TASS. "All rumors on social media about a barrage of rockets hitting a crowd of journalists and a large number of casualties are either a deliberate provocation or just somebody's personal stupidity."

Read more: Things to know about international military exercises

It added that the incident shown in the video happened during a separate, earlier military exercise.

"The homing system of one of the helicopters locked on a wrong target by mistake. An unguided missile hit a truck. There was no one inside," it said, without specifying when the incident took place. 

Controversial war games

The weeklong Zapad exercises, which began on September 14, are taking place in western Russia, Russia's exclave of Kaliningrad, and Belarus. President Vladimir Putin attended the military drills at the Luzhsky training area, near the border with Estonia, on Monday.

Read moreZapad 2017 drill - what does Russia want?

NATO officials say they are also closely observing what they see as Russia testing its preparedness to wage war against the West. Moscow, however, has said the exercises are purely defensive and aim to simulate a response to foreign-backed "extremists." Just under 13,000 troops are taking part, along with 70 planes and helicopters, according to the Kremlin.

As part of the maneuvers, Russia said it had also successfully test-fired a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

Watch video 06:02

NATO General James Everard on Russia's Zapad drills

nm, dm/kl (AP, Reuters, TASS)

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