The term „Potemkin armies / military“ became known mainly in the course of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, taking its cue from the famous Potemkin villages. However, the term was already in use earlier and was also used for the German armed forces. In essence, the idea is that armies look much better on paper or from a distance than they would do in any possible conflict. This refers to the Potemkin villages that originated in Russia. Facades were nicely prepared, but in fact the impression was solely for representation – no one could have lived in the houses. It is now apparently similar with some armies in the world.
What is a „Potemkin army“ or „Potemkin military“? Meaning, definition, explanation
Similar to the Potemkin villages, a Potemkin army / military offers real splendor only at first glance. What in the case of the villages are the spruced up facades, while in the background there is misery and decay, can be similarly converted to an army. For example, a Potemkin army / military has some military vehicles and military equipment that are state of the art and cause a certain desire and not least fear among other nations. However, these special units, which are then also shown off at every presentation, are only intended to conceal the actual state of the army.
Already the Bundeswehr in its present form has been described as a Potemkin army. Although the Leopard tanks and the Eurofighters are some of the best military equipment in the world, this cannot hide the fact that the actual condition of the Bundeswehr is disastrous. Besides ammunition, even the absolute basics of equipment are lacking – it doesn’t help to have special equipment that is state of the art in very specialized areas.
Another expression for „Potemkin army“ is „Potemkin military“.
Why is the Russian army called a Potemkin army / military?
After the end of the Soviet Union, and especially in recent years, the Russian army has invested massively in research and development of new military equipment. In addition to new tanks and aircraft, there were new submarines, improved missiles and all kinds of other developments. The purpose behind this was clear: they wanted to prove that they could keep up with the military development of the USA and therefore continue to be the military superpower they already were during the Cold War. Indeed, experts were impressed by the units presented at Russia’s annual military parades. However, little was known about the complete equipment of the Russian army.
As the invasion of Ukraine eventually showed, the special equipment here also appears to have been an attempt to hide the fact that the core army was in less good shape. The attack was sometimes carried out with equipment that dated back to the 1960s and 1970s, was produced in the Soviet Union, and apparently had not been tried out for several years. This could be seen from the conquests but also destructions in the first days of the conflict. Since the sheer mass of the Russian army’s equipment does not at all meet modern requirements, the term Potemkin army is now used for the Russian army.