Russia unveils new military park for children

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By Rory Challands, Al Jazeera

Kids can learn to shoot, climb on tanks and learn of past military glories in the Park Patriot.

When the doors of Park Patriot open to the public next year, the families who flock here will be treated to an exciting array of activities. The youngsters will be able to fire weapons, clamber on battle tanks, and drive military equipment. Then, once they're suitably tired out, everyone can settle down to watch a reenactment of a famous Soviet battlefield victory. And of course there'll be a recruitment centre for military age boys and girls to join the armed forces. 

There's been a tank museum at Kubinka for years. But the rusting war trophies, brought back from the 20th century's forgotten proxy conflicts, are being incorporated into something much more ambitious. Park Patriot spreads over 5,500 hectares. At full capacity, it will be able to cope with 100,000 visitors per day. As well as all the high-explosive hardware, there will be exhibition centres, hotels, and restaurants. It's reportedly costing the Russian Defence Ministry $365m. 

Why bother? Well, President Vladimir Putin summed it up when he opened the arms fair Army 2015 on June 16 – the park's first proper test as a venue.

"I am certain that the new park will become a major component in the system of military-patriotic education of the younger generation," he said. 

Russia is falling back in love with its military again. The scandals and embarrassments of the Chechnyan conflicts are being quietly forgotten. The Kremlin and the Ministry of Defence are now trumpeting a much more modern, better trained, better equipped fighting force. This is the army that steam-rollered the Georgians in 2008, and stealthily seized Crimea from Ukraine at the beginning of 2014. 

The West, of course, says it's also the military that's been supplying pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine with soldiers and equipment, the military that evidence suggests provided the BUK missile launcher which shot down Malaysian Airways flight MH17, with the loss of 298 innocent lives, the military that's been regularly probing NATO air defences over Europe.

As the stand-off between Russia and the West gets worse by the day, the military rhetoric from both sides is getting hotter. But it's not just talk.

By 2020 Russia intends to have replaced 70 percent of its military equipment with gleaming, bang up-to-date new kit. This year 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles will bolster Russia's nuclear arsenal. 

Russia certainly doesn't want a war with the West. But it figures that the best way of avoiding one, at the same time as asserting what it believes to be its geopolitical rights, is to adopt an aggressive posture. Park Patriot is one small piece of this larger, militaristic jigsaw puzzle. Russians who love their armed forces are likely to support it if the going ever gets tough. 

But there's also another possible reason for its existence. The project is the brainchild of Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu, a man Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer says is different from other Russian politicians in that he understands and likes PR. He's also, says Pavel, deeply ambitious.

"Maybe he has even ambitions running for president someday. So he wants to be seen as the person who led Russia to military victories, to rebuild the Russian military into something great and wonderful."

Source: Al Jazeera

Photo: Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA

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