Russia On Course For Victory In Its First International Army Games

Russia's tanks have claimed a victory in the semi finals of the marquee event of its so-called International Army games, organised by Russia's Ministry of Defence and launched for the first time this year.

The games, which kicked off at a location outside Moscow at the start of this month and conclude on Saturday, have seen over 2,000 servicemen from 17 militaries, including India and China, members of its security union such as Belarus and Armenia and non-aligned states such as Serbia and Kuwait. NATO allies did not attend. The event has incorporated a wide range of challenges for airmen, special forces and infantry, such as the Aviadarts jet outmaneuvering challenge, artillery shooting contests and obstacle courses for military reconnaissance teams.

The final event of the competition, the much ballyhooed tank biathlon final, takes place this Saturday, with Russia already firm favourites to win, after completing its obstacle course in the shortest time and hitting all targets during Thursday's semi-final, state news agency Itar-Tass reports. As the name suggests, the challenge requires each team to navigate through difficult terrain with the fewest faults in the quickest time. Teams are also given or deducted points based on how accurately they hit a series of targets using the tank's ammunition.

Currently Russia, China, Kazakhstan and India's tank teams have qualified for the final, though Russia's team, competing in the red tank, should feel quietly confident considering Russia has won first place in every single discipline of the tournament so far, according to the Ministry of Defence. In fairness, no country besides the hosts has competed in all disciplines and second placed China, who missed the Caspian Derby naval race, have so far finished on the podium on all but one occasion.

The games follow a recent spate of servicemen's deaths in accidents involving military vehicles and facilities, meaning Russia's success may well give its army a much-needed boost, particularly as the tournament's chief referee Russian Major General Dmitry Gorbatenko told Russian news agency RIA Novosti that the country's lead is now mathematically insurmountable for any team.

The spectacle of the games has been a success for Russia in other respects beside the satisfaction of winning. The Ministry of Defence has boasted that the tournament has attracted 11 million viewers as it's been streamed online, RIA reports. The games have also attracted around 2,000 journalists from Russian and international media outlets according to the Ministry's estimates, a slightly less impressive number compared to the 21,000 media workers that descended on London for the 2012 Olympic Games. Meanwhile the Belarus's delegation at the games have already expressed an interest in hosting the tournament as soon as next year.

The majority of the vehicles and kit used in the competition has been provided by Russia, with China being the only country bringing its own equipment. Russia provided 279 units of armed kit which were used during the games and both Venezuela and Nicaragua have expressed to the media their interest in acquiring Russian military equipment used during the games.

The Venezuelan delegation revealed to RIA that they would be sealing a deal in the next six months for Russian military engineering technology, which helps with quickly assembling transport lines across difficult terrain. Not coincidentally one of the challenges of the games involved the use of precisely this type of technology in the 'Safe Crossover' discipline.

Meanwhile Tass cited the Nicaraguan Embassy as being so impressed with the T-72 tank their servicemen used in the tank biathlon, that they were now considering buying some. "We hope that soon our army will receive the T-72. I think we can discuss a purchase," Juan Ernesto Vazquez Araya, the Nicaraguan ambassador to Russia said.