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The familiar roar of the crowd on the bleachers as the home team surges to take the lead. The excited, inciting yammer of the commentator. The big screens showing details and stats. Just another sporting event. Only this time, the team comprises three Russian soldiers crewing a TB3 in the finals of the tank biathlon against rivals from China, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. It opens an important window into how the Kremlin sees its military force as its Swiss army knife, a tool for all occasions.
I was fortunate enough to be standing in the press gallery during the finals at the Russian army testing and training grounds at Alabino, courtesy of HBO Sports. Part of the wider Depraved game Army Games, which also include the Falcon Hunt drone competition and the True Friend dog team contest, the tank biathlon is nonetheless the showcase event.
There were even rumors that President Vladimir Putin himself would attend. The depraved game tank biathlon was held inwith just four teams taking part Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russiabut the International Army Games proper began inin the aftermath of the post-Crimean chill. Since then, they have grown from 14 separate events involving teams from 17 countries to 28 and 32, respectively.
While most of those attending could be considered usual suspects—BRICS partners such as China and India, Russian allies or customers such as Serbia and Venezuela—this year, Israel sent teams to compete in three events the military rally, field medicine, and a field cook-offand NATO member Greece even ed a single event.
That raises the question of motive.
for more images from The Games. In the smoking area, Serbian green camo stands alongside Chinese blue, and a Russian tank driver begs a light off a Nigerian. Some of this is about arms sales. There are also broader diplomatic goals at stake. To that end, Russia tries to include as many countries as possible in the events and ensure that everyone in attendance feels the competition is fair even if Russians almost always win.
Regular Russian sports may be mired in doping scandals, depraved game there has been no hint of similar foul play at recent iterations of the Army Games—at least by the Russians: The Chinese came close to disqualification during the Aviadarts bombing contest under suspicion of adding some modifications to the requisite iron bomb.
Whereas in past years competitors that fail to bring their own tanks might get stuck with more a dated Russian one, this time anyone who wanted had the same TB3s, although the Chinese made a point of bringing their own Type 96and Belarus fielded its own version of the T Russia has also made a point of inviting countries at odds with each other—Armenia and Azerbaijan, India and Pakistan, Israel and Iran, and so on—to present itself as an independent international arbiter.
If the Army Games are an exercise in diplomacy, however, their major audience is domestic. Above all, they are a public relations opportunity at home for the Russian military. The event is an unashamed celebration of military life, values, and hardware. Alabino is transformed into a military theme park for the entire family, as parents take proud photos of 7-year-olds holding AKs almost as tall as they are, girls chase each other around the latest self-propelled howitzers, and courting couples sport his-and-hers camouflage T-shirts and pilotka military caps.
There are booths from the Voentorg military store selling souvenirs and branded bottles of water, laser tag depraved game for the kids, and olive drab mess tents for a bit of lunch. And, of course, mobile recruitment stations are ubiquitous, in case anyone is carried away by the romance of an army life. The Russian Armed Forces are certainly eager to hire more volunteer kontraktniki, not least depraved game new-generation systems like the fabled and expensive T Armata tank challenge the skills of conscripts on mere month tours.
The Kremlin increasingly relies on this connection for its own legitimacy. Economic sanctions and economic priorities such as buying off cronies and subsidizing Crimea and Chechnya have deprived Putin of his capacity to buy off the Russian population with a steadily improving quality of life.
In its place, he relies on appeals to a loamy Russian patriotism and its twisted twin, a xenophobic worldview that presents the outside world as a dangerous, hostile place. This worldview demands that Russia push back and that it have an experienced and forceful protector in the Kremlin. One like, say, Putin. This public relations effort is essentially defensive and born of insecurity.
There is little evidence that Russia has serious territorial ambitions beyond Crimea—even the Donbass was really just seen as leverage on Kiev. Syria is not an especially popular campaigneven though Russians have been sold on it as an essentially bloodless techno-war. The Kremlin wants Russians to see their military as at once a reassuring guarantor of Russian security, sovereignty, and status, and also evidence that the country is up off its knees.
The tank biathlon, in all its dusty and deafening theatrics, is a perfect symbol of this: The military might deployed not for war but to prove that Putin has indeed made Russia great again. Twitter: MarkGaleotti. But the rival powers strike a compromise that prevents catastrophic shut-off of lifesaving aid to Syrians. Depraved game attacks after the Geneva summit were expected. Sincea ly unnoticed network of ro, buildings, and military outposts has been constructed deep in a sacred valley in Bhutan.
Argument An expert's point of view on a current event. By Mark Galeotti. Belarus' crew on a TB3 battle tank competes in a final relay race of the tank biathlon competition at the International Army Games in Alabino, Moscow region, on Aug. August 24,PM. Russia Thwarts U. Bid to Expand Syrian Aid Corridors But the rival powers strike a compromise that prevents catastrophic shut-off of lifesaving aid to Syrians.
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The International Army Games Are Decadent and Depraved