a united front around Russia… and failures

From August 13 to 27, twelve of Russia’s friendly countries and territories jointly hosted military sports events aimed at demonstrating the capabilities of the participants.

More than 260 teams from 34 countries in Europe, Asia and Africa “present to” 30 training grounds and four oceans “. According to the presentation made by the Russian Defense Ministry, the 2022 International Military Games will be a real show of strength.

While his diplomatic relations cooled down a lot with many Western chancelleries after the invasion of Ukraine, Russia did everything to improve the competition. Excerpts from broadcasts of parades and exercises of Belarusian, Iranian or Chinese soldiers, praised by a crowd of supporters, flooded social networks.

Soft-power with tanks

More than approximately 4,500 soldiers deployed in participating countries and territories, the military games organized by Russia are above all an opportunity to prove that Vladimir Putin is not completely isolated. Organizers want proof of this with the arrival of new participants for the 2022 edition, such as Rwanda and Bolivia, despite Western sanctions.

This is a way to show that Russia is not an outcast. It is important to say “We are not alone”, explained David E. Johnson, chief analyst at the Rand Corporation. Among the countries present, the usual allies of Russia, such as China, Iran or Belarus, but also eleven African countries, such as Mali, Sudan and Congo, which Russia approached diplomatically in the recent years. ” Soft power with tanks! “, he shouted.

business as usual »

For David E. Johnson, the nature of military power in these Games is secondary. ” It’s not a show of strength so much as a way to pretend nothing’s happening, “Business as usual””, he explained to RFI. With this Olympics of a rather particular kind, Russia is trying to show that in Ukraine, it is a question of “ a special operation and not a war, because we can still organize the games! », Analyzes the retired colonel of the American army.

The event, which will attract more than 235,000 spectators, according to the Russian Ministry of Defense, is very much like a sports competition, with many cameras, replays and commentators. ” They tried to make it look like a football game! comments by David E. Johnson.

Photo released by Xinhua News Agency. The 96B tank of the Chinese team competes in the tank biathlon at the 2022 International Military Games at the Alabino training ground in the Moscow region on Sunday, August 14, 2022. AP – Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr.

A demonstration at the front intended to make people forget the massive losses suffered in the six-month war in Ukraine. If it is too difficult to count (in its last declaration, four months ago, Moscow limited itself to announcing the death of 1,351 Russian soldiers), the many videos of the combat showing the burned that corpse of Russian vehicles follows each other on Ukrainian communication channels.

Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans, two Dutch researchers who observed the material loss of the Russian army in Ukraine on their site Oryx, was able to confirm that about 980 tanks were captured, destroyed or reported abandoned by Russian forces, as well as 508 armored fighting vehicles and 1,059 infantry fighting vehicles, among others. The lightning push towards kyiv has failed and the front is now buried in eastern and southern Ukraine.

The tank biathlon, shows a failure in social networks

But the display of power in a united front has also become a mockery of the Military Games. In social networks, many users are happy with the mistakes of the crew involved in the star event of these games: the Biathlon of tanks, a race that combines speed and shooting that took place in the training area of Alabino, in the suburbs of Moscow.

The Venezuelan crew, country hosting the competition events for the first timemissed a target with his cannon, causing consternation in the stands.

The Sudanese tankers also had a hard time with the obstacles, destroying the track protections on the first run before getting stuck in a pit. A video showing an off-track of one of these tanks has also been widely circulated, to the delight of Internet users.

The crew of South Ossetia, a separatist territory of Georgia recognized by several countries including Russia, caused him to break into a cold sweat: ready to fire, the cannon of the Ossetian tank suddenly made a U-turn to the left still teach the public. The Russian commentator had to suspend his commentary for a few moments, embarrassed by this dangerous maneuver.


But the most noticeable entrant was Zimbabwe, with their tanks running down the lane, unable to hit the gun targets and ending regulation time. The video extracts where the The Zimbabwean tank commander threw, disappointed, a piece of ammunition after failing to reload his machine gun especially reacted on social networks. An advertisement the country could have done without. The New Zimbabwe news site wrote: Zimbabwe made a humiliating exit from the Russian Army Games; the team failed to achieve the goals, lost, took too long to complete the events. »

in” circus games » more and more criticized

This is anything but representative of what a tank can do. We are almost in circus games “, comments Yann Boisvin, founder of the special blog Blablachars. ” This will not impress anyone on the NATO side “said the retired French soldier. ” The tank biathlon, it is the media, but it is not important in the capital. You have much more serious competitions “, he explained, referring to the various exercises organized by the member countries of the Atlantic Alliance.

On land we see tankers », added Yann Boisvin. In Ukraine, this terrain won Bato Basanov, champion of Russia in the 2021 edition of the tank biathlon, in association with the 37th Motorized Rifle Brigade.

Even within the Russian military, criticism of the event will be more. According to a statement from the UK Ministry of Defence, ” a significant part of Russian military and security experts probably believe that it is not appropriate to continue devoting forces to ceremonial military activities, while Russian troops suffer many casualties. »

The British government recalled that Igor Girkin, a former Russian intelligence officer and minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk Republic, openly criticized his Russian allies in the war in Ukraine. On August 19, the latter reluctantly praised the administration of President Volodymyr Zelenksy, compared to a Russia ” playing tank biathlon in the sixth month ofinvasion of Ukraine.

Also read: Ukraine: six months after the Russian invasion, a conflict with an uncertain outcome

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