It's been dubbed Russia's "Military Disneyland," but you won't find any roller-coasters or Sleeping Beauty's castle in Patriot Park. Instead, families can watch tanks and fighting vehicles in action, play with rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and examine a surface-to-air missile.
Patriot Park — in the town of Kubinka, west of Moscow — will work to inculcate a sense of patriotism and military valor in Russia's youth, President Vladimir Putin announced at a grandiose opening ceremony.
Flanked by army officers in green dress uniforms with gold braiding, Putin said Patriot Park would in the future offer reenactments of legendary battles, display new military equipment, and tell the histories of Russia's army, navy, and air force. The park is planned to be fully completed in 2017 and will reportedly cost 20 billion rubles ($370 million).
"I'm confident that this new park will become an important link in the system of military-patriotic work with young people," he said.
Russia, which has been wielding its army's might by backing separatists in eastern Ukraine, has been sparing no expense on a program to modernize its military by 2020. The country that has throughout history called on Russian patriotism when times are tough has also been promoting the armed forces among youth: A recent army promotional video titled "Security Is a Verb" featured a soldier running his hand lovingly along a missile.
This week also marks the start of the Army 2015 forum. To show off Russia's military might before the event — which was to be visited by delegations of potential partners and arms buyers from mainly non-Western countries — tanks, fighting vehicles, and rocket launchers unleashed fearsome volleys and helicopters whizzed through the air.
Among the military equipment on display was a Buk M1, a model of the surface-to-air missile launcher widely suspected of bringing down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine last July, killing all 298 on board. Russian Buk producer Almaz-Antey claimed this month that the M1 model had not been produced in Russia since 1999 and therefore the missile that shot down flight 17 almost certainly came from Ukraine. But the M1 on display in Kubinka on Tuesday would seem to challenge this argument.
Alongside foreign delegations from places such as Nicaragua and Saudi Arabia at the park's opening were Russian officials, an Orthodox priest, and Alexander "The Surgeon" Zaldostanov, the head of the pro-Putin Night Wolves biker gang. Several Night Wolves were checking out Patriot Park to get ideas for a similar park they're building outside of Sevastopol, in Crimea, which Russia annexed last year.
Park-goers could sample army rations and purchase military- and Soviet-themed swag, including fridge magnets featuring Putin, Joseph Stalin, "Iron Felix" Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Soviet secret police, and secret police chief Lavrenty Beria. A performance by a military balalaika orchestra rounded out the patriotic tone.
On a more serious note, Putin also announced in his speech that Russia would deploy 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles this year, a move that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called "nuclear saber-rattling."
In an apparent jab at US missile defense systems that Poland is seeking to purchase, Putin said that the new nukes would be "capable of overcoming any, even the most technically sophisticated, missile defense systems."
American officials said last week that the Pentagon is considering storing battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and other heavy weapons for up to 5,000 US troops in Baltic and Eastern European countries.
Putin also said that as part of a revamp of his armed forces, new military equipment was being delivered to units, including Russia's new T-14 Armata tank. Its makers have trumpeted the tank as a game-changer on the battlefields of the future, but in May a T-14 appeared to break down on Red Square during a rehearsal for the Victory Day parade, when it made its public debut. Chinese tank maker Norinco later seized this minor embarrassment to engage in some online trash talking.
Follow Alec Luhn on Twitter: @ASLuhn