LEG­ENDARY IN­VEN­TOR

De­signer of AK-47, world’s most deadly firearm, dies at 94

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By JIM HEINTZ in Moscow As­so­ci­ated Press

Mikhail Kalash­nikov started out want­ing to make farm equip­ment, but ended up de­sign­ing the world’s most pop­u­lar firearm, the AK- 47 as­sault ri­fle.

It was the car­nage of World War II, when Nazi Ger­many in­vaded the Soviet Union, that al­tered his course and made his name as well-known for blood­shed as Smith, Wes­son and Colt. The dis­tinc­tive shape of the gun, of­ten called “a Kalash­nikov”, ap­peared on rev­o­lu­tion­ary flags and adorns mem­o­ra­bilia.

Kalash­nikov died on Mon­day at age 94 in a hos­pi­tal in Izhevsk, the cap­i­tal of the Ud­mur­tia repub­lic where he lived, said Vik­tor Chulkov, a spokesman for the repub­lic’s pres­i­dent. He did not give a cause of death. Kalash­nikov had been hos­pi­tal­ized for the past month with un­spec­i­fied health prob­lems.

Kaslash­nikov of­ten said he felt per­son­ally un­trou­bled by his con­tri­bu­tion to blood­shed.

“I sleep well. It’s the politi­cians who are to blame for fail­ing to come to an agree­ment and re­sort­ing to vi­o­lence,’’ he told The As­so­ci­ated Press in 2007.

The AK-47 — “Av­tomat Kalash­nikov’’ and the year it went into pro­duc­tion — is the world’s most pop­u­lar firearm, fa­vored by guer­ril­las, ter­ror­ists and the sol­diers of many armies. An es­ti­mated 100 mil­lion guns are spread world­wide.

Though it isn’t es­pe­cially ac­cu­rate, its rugged­ness and sim­plic­ity are ex­em­plary: it per­forms in sandy or wet con­di­tions that jam more so­phis­ti­cated weapons such as the United States’ M16 ri­fle.

“Dur­ing the Viet­nam War, US sol­diers would throw away their M16s to grab AK-47s and bul­lets for it from dead Viet­namese sol­diers,’’ Kalash­nikov said in July 2007 at a cer­e­mony mark­ing the ri­fle’s 60th an­niver­sary.

The weapon’s suit­abil­ity for jun­gle and desert fight­ing made it nearly ideal for the Third World in­sur­gents backed by the for­mer Soviet Union, and Moscow not only dis­trib­uted the AK-47 widely but also li­censed its pro­duc­tion in some 30 other coun­tries.

The gun’s sta­tus among rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies and na­tional- lib­er­a­tion strug­gles is en­shrined on the flag of Mozam­bique.

‘Blame the Nazis’

Kalash­nikov, born into a peas­ant fam­ily in Siberia, be­gan his work­ing life as a rail­road clerk. Af­ter he joined the Red Army in 1938, he be­gan to show me­chan­i­cal flair by in­vent­ing sev­eral mod­i­fi­ca­tions for Soviet tanks.

The mo­ment that firmly set his course was in the 1941 Bat­tle of Bryansk against Nazi forces, when a shell hit his tank. Re­cov­er­ing from wounds in the hos­pi­tal, Kalash­nikov brooded about the su­pe­rior au­to­matic ri­fles he’d seen the Nazis de­ploy; his rough ideas and re­vi­sions bore fruit five years later.

“Blame the Nazi Ger­mans for mak­ing me be­come a gun de­signer,’’ said Kalash­nikov. “I al­ways wanted to con­struct agri­cul­tural ma­chin­ery.’’

In 2007, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin praised him, say­ing “the Kalash­nikov ri­fle is a sym­bol of the creative ge­nius of our peo­ple”.

Over his ca­reer, he was dec­o­rated with nu­mer­ous hon­ors, in­clud­ing the Hero of So­cial­ist La­bor and Or­der of Lenin and Stalin Prize. But be­cause his in­ven­tion was never patented, he didn’t get rich from roy­al­ties.

“At that time in our coun­try, patent­ing in­ven­tions wasn’t an is­sue. We worked for so­cial­ist society, for the good of the peo­ple, which I never re­gret,’’ he once said.

Kalash­nikov con­tin­ued work­ing into his late 80s as chief de­signer of the Iz­mash com­pany that first built the AK-47.

He also trav­eled the world help­ing the Rus­sian govern­ment ne­go­ti­ate new arms deals, and he wrote books on his life, about arms and about youth ed­u­ca­tion.

DIMA KOROTAYEV / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Rus­sian weapon de­signer Mikhail Kalash­nikov poses with the first model of his leg­endary AK-47 as­sault ri­fle dur­ing a 2007 cer­e­mony in Moscow cel­e­brat­ing the 60th an­niver­sary of the ri­fle. Kalash­nikov died on Mon­day aged 94, Rus­sia’s ITAR-TASS news agency an­nounced.

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