This story won the 2023 Society for Professional Journalists Dateline Award for column in a newsletter or trade publication.
PARIS — As leaders from France, Germany and Italy visited Kiev this week, more than a dozen businessmen were stopped, perhaps even transfixed, in front of a booth for the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense at a defense industry trade show near Paris.
There, a video showing the military weapons Ukraine is relying on to defend itself against a Russian invasion ran on a loop. For the first four days of the Eurosatory conference here, small crowds, the kind usually reserved for popular trade show attractions such as robotic dogs or strong espresso coffee, gathered outside and watched, mostly silent and expressionless.
The montage of war footage is purportedly of Russia’s invasion this year and Ukraine’s efforts to fight back. In one scene, what appears to be Russian trucks are spotted from overhead, camouflaged in the woods. In the next scene, an explosion. And then smoke billows from the forest.
In another, what is presumably a Russian plane is hit from a Strila-10 anti-aircraft system, then descends toward the ground and explodes into a fireball. Boom. A second later, a cut to the burnt scrap and wreckage. No bodies are shown.
In between scenes, the giant screen, at least 10 feet tall and just as wide, fills with smoke and then fades to black before introducing the next weapons system. Boom. BTR-3. Boom. S-300. Boom. BUK-MI.
Generally, promotional videos at trade shows like this one follow a blueprint. They depict vehicles rolling through green pastures or insanely rocky terrain. They feature dramatic rock music with crescendos and driving bass line. They include digital graphics that explain in slow motion how each part of a weapon works. And when the systems fire, the viewer never sees where the artillery lands.
Rarely do they feature weapons like the ones on display in the Paris-Nord Villepinte Exhibition Centre this week actually blowing up another country’s deployed vehicles.
Then again, rarely are the countries who are exhibiting defending themselves in war.
Ukrainian officials did not respond to a request for an interview to discuss their booth at the trade show, nor did leaders from Spetstechnoexport, the state-owned company responsible for the booth and the country’s military imports.
Representatives from Coges, the organizers of the biennial Eurosatory conference, noted in an email that Ukraine confirmed its participation in the show before Russia’s invasion in late February.
On one side of the booth, the ministry displayed images of burned-out armored vehicles and Russian tanks without tracks. Every piece of glass was shattered, every surface of the vehicle charred.
The booth’s location also made it hard to ignore.
To the left, the ministry’s neighbor was Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor, with panels advertising Javelin, its anti-tank missile that’s been used for more than 25 years and proven especially popular for Ukraine.
To the right was Norinco, or the China North Industries Corporation, the state-run manufacturer and another of the world’s largest contractors.
The ministry left a 24-page book of glossy photos for passersby with images of the FH-70 Howitzer, the MiG-29 fighter, the Bayraktar TB2 drone, the Stinger and, of course, the Javelin. The cover read “Armed Forces of Ukraine. Together to win!”
The latest White House package to support Ukraine includes more ammunition for high-tech, medium-range rocket launchers, rockets for the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, M777 howitzers, 155mm ammunition and secure radios.
Boom. The video filled with smoke. The next crowd shuffled by, then stopped to watch.
Editor in chief Mike Gruss leads Sightline Media Group's stable of news outlets, which includes Army Times, Air Force Times, C4ISRNET, Defense News, Federal Times, Marine Corps, Military Times and Navy Times.