Don't blame AK-47 for mayhem, says inventor

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 July, 2007, 12:00am

Sixty years after the AK-47 went into production, designer 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,' Mr Kalashnikov said on Friday at a ceremony marking the birth of the rifle, the initials of which stand for 'Avtomat Kalashnikov'.

It was before he started designing the gun that he slept badly, worried about the superior weapons that Nazi soldiers were using with grisly effectiveness against the Red Army in the second world war. He saw them at close range himself, while fighting on the frontlines.

While in hospital after a Nazi shell hit his tank in 1941, Mr Kalashnikov decided to design an automatic rifle with the best features of the American M1 and the German StG44.

'Blame the Nazi Germans for making me become a gun designer,' said Mr Kalashnikov, frail but sharp at age 87. 'I always wanted to construct agricultural machinery.'

Since production began, more than 100 million AK-47s have been made - either in Russia, under licence in dozens of other countries, or illegally. Sergei Chemezov, director of arms-export monopoly Rosoboronexport, said nearly a million a year were produced without a licence.

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, although its accuracy is not high. It proved ideal and extremely reliable for warfare in jungle or desert - easily assembled and able to keep firing in sandy or wet conditions that would jam a US-made M16.

'During the Vietnam war, American soldiers would throw away their M16s to grab AK-47s and bullets for it from dead Vietnamese soldiers,' Mr Kalashnikov said. 'I hear American soldiers in Iraq use it quite often.'

The AK-47's simplicity and reliability made it a favourite of rebel movements worldwide - it even appears on Mozambique's flag. Keen to support anti-colonial movements in Asia and Africa, the Soviets supplied the rifle, sometimes at no cost, to pro-Soviet regimes or insurgents.

In 2005, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who styles himself a leader of the fight against imperialism, ordered 100,000 for his army.

'The Kalashnikov rifle is a symbol of the creative genius of our people,' Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a statement at Friday's ceremony.

'For another 20 years, the AK-47 will remain unsurpassed by any other automatic rifle,' said Nikolai Shvets of Rosoboronexport.

Mr Kalashnikov is still active and prolific - he tours the world as a Rosoboronexport consultant helping to strike new arms deals and has penned several books on his life, arms and 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.'

He said he is proud of a bronze bust, installed in his native village of Kurya in Siberia. He said newlyweds brought flowers to the bust after their wedding ceremonies.

'They whisper 'Uncle Misha, wish us happiness and healthy kids',' he said. 'What other gun designer can boast of that?'

Top gun

Production of the AK-47 started in 1947

The number of rifles estimated to have been produced so far 100m