Russia hosts annual military ‘Olympics’ as the war in Ukraine grinds on


Dodging incoming rounds from U.S.-supplied HIMARS rocket launchers won’t be one of the events this month during the International Army Games hosted by the Russian Ministry of Defense, but the Games will go on.

Despite a flood of sanctions and boycotts organized by the U.S. and its allies over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, teams from 31 countries have confirmed they will participate in this year’s games, which run from August 13 to August 27. The first International Army Games was held in Russia in 2015.

Many of the participating countries are reliable allies of Russia, like China and Belarus, but delegations from European countries like Denmark, Germany and even the U.S. also have attended past games, either as competitors or observers.

“The teams of Saudi Arabia and Rwanda will take part in the Games for the first time,” the Russian defense ministry officials said, according to the state-owned TASS news agency. Venezuela, whose socialist government has long clashed with Washington, is sending a military team to compete for the first time as well.

The International Army Games resemble the Olympics with cheering crowds and breathless television coverage. But instead of a high jump and 400-meter sprint, imagine racing tanks and artillery competitions. There are competitions in anti-aircraft fire, artillery calculations, military engineering and defense against bioweapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

Iran is sending four teams to take part in the games, including Navy commandos from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — which the U.S. officially considers a terrorist organization — and a tank biathlon unit from the Army, according to the official Tasnim News Agency.

This year’s International Army Games are the first since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine almost six months ago. Other countries are hosting some of the events, such as Venezuela where the sniper competition will take place.

China sent a train to Russia, laden with personnel and military vehicles, to take part in this year’s games. It’s a sign Beijing doesn’t plan on pressing too hard against Moscow for its actions in Ukraine.

Russia has taken an estimated 70,000 to 80,000 casualties — both killed and wounded — since late February when their tanks first rolled across the border with Ukraine. The decision to hold the games this year seems to indicate Moscow wants the world to know they haven’t been bowed by the West-imposed sanctions.

But, at least 50 countries have sent military aid to Ukraine since the invasion — more than the number taking part in the Russian-sponsored Army Olympics. Ukraine has never participated in any of the eight annual editions of the competition.

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