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Story highlights

International Army Games events let countries compete to prove military might

Events are attended by Russian dignitaries and thousands of spectators

(CNN) —  

In a muddy field in a suburb west of Moscow, military personnel take part in tank warfare, fire artillery and dogfight in state-of-the-art fighter jets.

But this is not a military drill or combat training operation – it’s a spectator sport.

The annual International Army Games involve 28 mostly non-NATO countries battling it out in dozens of competitions over two weeks to prove which nation has the most military might.

Russia always comes out on top.

A plane flies over the grounds of the 2017 Russia Army Games in Alabino, Moscow on August 12.
Rebecca Wright/CNN
A plane flies over the grounds of the 2017 Russia Army Games in Alabino, Moscow on August 12.

The Russian team took first place in the medals table after Saturday’s final day, preserving a 100% record of victory since the games began in 2015. Kazakhstan and China took second and third place, with Iran and Venezuela also in the top 10.

Sending a message

As the US prepares to start its next round of joint military drills with South Korea, this showcase serves as a reminder of Russia’s own allies and highlights that western efforts to isolate Russia have largely failed.

It also sends a message to North Korea, with which Russia shares a 17-kilometer border in Russia’s far eastern corner, and bolsters patriotic pride at a time when relations between the US and Russia are at their most frosty since the Cold War.

Fans watch the Russia Army Games 2017 in Alabino, Moscow on August 12.
Rebecca Wright/CNN
Fans watch the Russia Army Games 2017 in Alabino, Moscow on August 12.

“This is just the showcase of our strength. Don’t touch us and we won’t touch anyone,” one male spectator told CNN.

Greece, which took part in one of the 28 categories, is the only NATO country to be represented. But Russia insists that other NATO countries are welcome.

“We have sent the invitations to 78 countries, including NATO countries,” Col. Gen. Oleg Salyukov said, according to a Russian Defense Ministry statement.

Tank biathlon

The main event of the games is the tank biathlon – a relay race of speed and accuracy, where teams in color-coded tanks navigate a 5-kilometer course of obstacles and fire live artillery rounds at targets. Visiting countries had the choice to bring their own tanks – as China did – or use Russian T-72B3 tanks.

Soldiers participate in the International Army Games in Moscow.
Rebecca Wright/CNN
Soldiers participate in the International Army Games in Moscow.

State broadcasters provide live coverage of the tank event across Russia. The finals were also attended by thousands of spectators, along with dignitaries including Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu, who awarded the trophies in a prize-giving ceremony.

But the games don’t just test traditional military skills. There are also more esoteric awards for the best field kitchen, top tank mechanic, and even the most creative dance performance. In total, more than 2,500 medals are handed out.

New fighter jet

Alongside the competitive events, Russia makes the most of the captive audience to showcase its latest weaponry.

Russia’s Su-57 fighter jet – the fifth generation of the T-50 model – made its public debut in an aerobatic display above the crowds. Heralded as “the plane of the future” by an enthusiastic announcer, the Su-57 is due to be operational in 2018.

It was the main attraction at an air show involving more than 150 aircraft, held in Patriot Park in the Moscow suburbs. The event marked the 105th anniversary of the Russian Air Force.

And as well as raising patriotic fervor, the event is also a fun family day out.

Jet fighters fly in formation over Moscow on Saturday.
Oren Liebermann/CNN
Jet fighters fly in formation over Moscow on Saturday.

Spectators arrive to a festival atmosphere, with bands playing traditional Russian music, gymnastic performances and stalls selling military memorabilia or wartime ration-style food.

There is also the chance to take a selfie with a Kalashnikov, try out a flight simulator – or have your body painted in patriotic colors.