A face-off between Syrian, Israeli and Iranian soldiers sounds apocalyptic, but this battlefield is a friendly one. The fourth International Army Games see real-life foes do battle in 28 events across five nations.
Since the end of July, military athletes have parachuted out of MI-8 helicopters, tanks have maneuvered through a 15-kilometer obstacle course and fighter pilots have competed in visual aerial reconnaissance and advanced flying at low altitude in competitions staged across five countries.
The International Army Games, which wrap up over the weekend, have been thrilling spectators across Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan and China.
The Army Games — now in their fourth year — were founded by the Russian military in 2015. More than 20 stages have been held in the different locations.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu at the opening ceremony of the 2018 International Army Games. The competitions took place in Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Belarus and China. The 'military Olympics' were dreamed up a year after relations between Russia and the West went into freefall after the annexation of Crimea.
On your marks...
Pictured here is a tank operated by a crew from China during the tank biathlon. The Chinese team finished second in the event behind Russia, with Belarus in third place. The teams raced through a 15-kilometer obstacle course while shooting at various targets.
A T-72 tank from Uganda fires during the Tank Biathlon competition in Alabino, near Moscow. The games began in 2015 with China and Russia's ex-Soviet neighbors. Participation in the Games has expanded to include as unlikely co-competitors as Iran and Israel, as well as NATO member, Greece.
Flying the flag
Spectators watch a tank from the Venezuelan Army's team in the semifinals of the tank biathlon competiton at the Alabino training field near Moscow. The games provide an opportunity to demonstrate that Russia has international partners and that Western efforts to isolate Russia have failed.
Members of the Russian team transport tanks on a pontoon bridge during the Open Water competition for pontoon bridge units outside Murom, Russia. Although Russian forces are involved in several conflicts around the globe, the Games help Moscow make new friends.
Feel the force
Team Russia transports MSTA-S self-propelled howitzers on a pontoon bridge during the Open Water competition.
A Kamov Ka-52 military helicopter during the Aviadarts competition at the Dubrovichi range outside Ryazan, Russia. Military pilots compete in visual aerial reconnaissance and piloting technique.
Two tanks climb a slope during the Suvorov Attack competition during the Games in Korla, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China.
A Shaanxi Y-9 aircraft of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) during the 'Engagement of Ground Targets' stage of the Aviadarts contest at Dyagilevo Airfield.
A Russian serviceman during the Battle Reconnaissance Competition. Reconnaissance teams from China, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Belarus and Russia took part in the competition held on the training grounds of the Novosibirisk High Command School in the Novosibirisk Region.
Family day out
Children play with a Soviet-era machine gun during the Games. Organizers insist there is no military subtext to the competition, but the event does give Russia a chance to showcase its military hardware.
Russia’s defense ministry invited all NATO member states to take part in the games, but apart from Greece, they stayed away.
Russian allies Syria and Iran took part in the 2018 competition as well as Israel.
Major General Alexander Peryazev told DW the event was not intended to scare Russia’s adversaries.
These military Olympics were dreamed up just a year after relations between Russia and the West went into freefall after the annexation of Ukraine's Crimea.
The games aim to show that Moscow is not out in the cold.
"We are showing decent results, but it is too early to talk about the final results," Russian team commander Lieutenant General Ivan Buvaltsev told DW during the tank biathlon. "Our rivals are serious, but we are prepared, and we have confidence in our team."
Mix and match
Teams of military chefs showed off their skills on the shooting range before cooking up their nation’s best dishes. "This is the Army Games. We started with the army profession, as soldiers, then after that we go to our second profession, as cooks," according to Lieutenant-Colonel Oren Shavit, who leads the Israel Defense Force kitchen team.
"It is the best place to meet other people, make a relationship with other countries," Shavit told DW. "We got a lot of friends from the other countries."
"We don’t show our strength, we show our level of combat training, not only Russia but all the countries taking part in the Army Games. The teams are simply happy to assign their tasks and represent their countries. There is no military subtext — only sport."
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Keith Walker, Lucy Taylor