MOSCOW – Sixty years after the AK-47 went into production, Mikhail Kalashnikov says he does not stay awake at night worrying about the bloodshed wrought by the world’s most popular assault rifle.
“I sleep well. It’s the politicians who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence,” Kalashnikov said Friday at a ceremony marking the birth of the rifle, whose initials stand for “Avtomat Kalashnikov.”
It was before he started designing the gun that he slept badly, worried about the superior weapons Nazi soldiers were using with grisly effectiveness against the Red Army in World War II. He saw them at close range while fighting on the front lines.
Hospitalized after a Nazi shell hit his tank in the 1941 battle of Bryansk, Kalashnikov decided to design an automatic rifle combining the best features of the American M-1 and the German StG44.
“Blame the Nazi Germans for making me become a gun designer,” said Kalashnikov, frail but sharp at 87. “I always wanted to construct agriculture machinery.”
Since production began, more than 100 million AK-47s have been made – either at the home factory in the central Russian city of Izhevsk, under license in dozens of other countries, or illegally. Sergei Chemezov, director of the Russian arms export monopoly Rosoboronexport, said nearly a million a year are produced without license.
The AK-47 has been a mainstay in wars, coups, terrorist attacks, robberies and other mayhem. Its popularity comes from being rugged and easy to maintain, though its accuracy is not high.
It proved extremely reliable for warfare in jungle or desert – easily assembled and able to keep firing in sandy or wet conditions that would jam a U.S-made M-16.
“During the Vietnam war, American soldiers would throw away their M-16s to grab AK-47s and bullets for it from dead Vietnamese soldiers,” he said. “I hear American soldiers in Iraq use it quite often.”
Kalashnikov is still active and prolific – he tours the world as a Rosoboronexport consultant and has written several books on his life, about arms and about youth education.
“After the collapse of the great and mighty Soviet Union so much crap has been imposed on us, especially on the younger generation,” he said. “I wrote six books to help them find their way in life.”
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