International Army Games: a New Form of Military Cooperation
The International Army Games (Armygames) are a unique cross-border event hosted by Russia for a number of years now. Teams of military personnel from different countries compete in various applied military disciplines, such as handling of military equipment, completing obstacle courses, etc. The games are a spectacular show comprising military exercises and fascinating sporting events that attract thousands of spectators from all over the world. In addition, the event gives the participating nations an opportunity to showcase their military capabilities and enhance the status of their armies on a global stage.
Sergey Shoygu, the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation, was the initiator of these games. The first Armygames were held on 11 military training grounds of 3 military districts in Russia in August 2015. Seventeen nations took part in the event, including Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The Russian Federation is accustomed to staging regular military drills with these 5 nations within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). India, Russia’s key partner in the sphere of military and technical cooperation, was also one of the participants, and so was China. There were 14 separate contests, whose names speak for themselves: “Competition of anti-aircraft missile troops units” (“Confident Reception”), “Masters of Artillery Fire”, “Aviadarts”, “Army Scouts Masters”, “Masters of Armored Vehicles”, etc.
“Tank Biathlon” became the most world-renowned contest, which is a stand-alone competition staged in Russia since 2013. In 2015, however, it became a part of the International Army Games. This contest involves tank crewmen competing with each other by driving tanks and shooting at targets using tank guns. In 2015, Russia won first place in “Tank Biathlon”, while China and Serbia came second and third, respectively. In addition, the “Field Kitchen” contest was held. Military chefs had an opportunity to demonstrate their skills by performing one of the key tasks in any war, i.e. serving quality meals to military personnel.
The second International Army Games (Armygames-2016) took place in 2016, with 3,500 servicemen from 19 countries participating. A number of new contest were added, and included: “Airborne Platoon”, “Seaborne Assault”, “Sniper Frontier”, “Military Medical Relay Race” and “Safe Environment”, where troops responsible for nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) reconnaissance had an opportunity to show their combat readiness. In 2016, servicemen from Russia won 20 gold medals, while their counterparts from Kazakhstan received 2 of them and those from China 1. It is noteworthy that Greece, a NATO member, took part in the second edition of the Armygames.
Armygames-2017 were no longer confined to the territory of the Russian Federation and took place in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and China. New contests were included: “Military Rally”, “Guardian of Order” (for military police units), “UAVs’ crews competition” (“Falcon Hunting”), etc. More than 4,500 military personnel from 28 nations participated in the games, including Israel and South Africa. Delegations from Germany and the United States observed the competition.
In the summer of 2018, Armenia and Iran joined the ranks of 5 host nations, and 32 nations, including Vietnam (a former Soviet ally and Russia’s current strategic partner), took part in the games.
The International Army Games marked their 5th anniversary in 2019 and were held from 3 to 17 August. More than 5,000 servicemen from as many as 39 nations took part in 32 contests of this event. The competitions were staged in Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Iran, India, China and Mongolia (incidentally, the route of the Silk Way Rally traversed Mongolia for the first time this year).
On 3 August, a ceremony to mark the start of the Armygames-2019 took place in Patriot Park (the Moscow region). Sergey Shoygu, Russia’s Minister of Defense, and other high-ranking military officials from different countries attended this event.
The “Army Scouts Masters” contest was held in India, near the city of Jaisalmer, and the team from India won this competition.
“Equestrian Marathon”, an unusual and novel contest, became the latest addition to the Armygames. As expected, Mongolia deservedly won first place in this competition.
On 16 August, it was reported that Russian servicemen set a new record in the Elbrus Ring contest, held in Kabardino-Balkaria (the Russian Federation). In this competition, members of alpinist units have to navigate through mountain terrains in difficult conditions. The team from the Russian Federation won first place in 9 out of 14 stages. They included helicopter airborne assault, with a subsequent speed march for dozens of kilometers; a climbing wall challenge; a hinged river crossing; glacial area ascent, and a climb to the top of Elbrus, the highest mountain peak in the Caucasus and Europe. The second fastest team to climb up Elbrus was from Uzbekistan, while Kazakhstan took third place.
The International Army Games 2019 ended with the final stage of the Tank Biathlon contest, held at the military training grounds in Alabino on 17 August. Once again the team from the Russian Federation came first, ahead of the teams from Belarus, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. It has been reported that the Russian tank crew set a new record by reaching speeds of up to 84 km/hour on the track and finishing the race in 1 hour 30 minutes and 20 seconds. The previous record for the fastest speed of 82 km/hour was also set by the Russian Federation. In 2019, Belarus and Kazakhstan came second and third, respectively.
Based on the results of all the contests, Russia was the winner of Armygames-2019. Sergey Shoygu presided over the awards ceremony.
The anniversary games ended with a grand fireworks display and a UAV show. According to media outlets, this year, more than 1 million people attended the Armygames events, but this number does not include all the viewers who followed the games on TV or the internet.
During the Armygames-2019, all the participating nations, and Russia first and foremost, demonstrated that their armies were well-prepared for combat. To a certain extent, such a show of readiness could deter some potential conflicts.
In addition, despite the focus on the military during this event, the International Army Games are not meant to propagandize militarism or serve as a threat to anyone. The fact that NATO member states are invited to the Armygames events exemplifies this. After the Armygames-2019 came to an end, Russia’s Minister of Defense once again extended such an invitation to NATO. According to Sergey Shoygu, it is better to see each other’s capabilities during sports competitions rather than in a real conflict. As mentioned earlier, for now Greece is the only NATO member state to take part in the games. However, with each passing year, the number of participants continues to grow, and it is possible that other nations from the military alliance may take part in the event in the future.
As is the case with any other sports competition, the Armygames promote peace and cooperation among countries from Eurasia and other regions, and enable representatives of different military cultures to meet in peace and grow to respect each other.
Dmitry Bokarev, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”