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Kalashnikov: I will be the first to shake hands with the one who makes a better rifle

December 24, 2013, 17:29 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© ITAR-TASS/Viktor Tolochko

MOSCOW, December 24 (Itar-Tass) - The Soviet Union and Russia have never had to bother about advertising this world-famous brand. The Russian surname Kalashnikov, hard to pronounce for many, is the best recognizable Soviet trademark of the 20th century. The designer of the most ubiquitous firearm in modern history is probably better known than the first man in space.

On Tuesday evening the news arrived that Mikhail Kalashnikov died at 94 in intensive care in the city of Izhevsk, the Republic of Udmurtia. The legendary engineer and designer created a firearm that was recognized as unrivalled over half a century. He delivered his famous AK in 1947.

The Kalashnikov rifle that ranks among the outstanding inventions of the twentieth century still remains in great demand. In the 2000s, in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is still as reliable and indispensable as before. The rifles have been supplied to almost half of the world.

By various estimates, a total of 70 million - 100 million of AKs - has been produced worldwide in different modifications. It is officially in use in 55 countries. In the 1950s 18 countries obtained production licences, and ten others produced the rifle unlicensed. A Kalashnikov is present on Mozambique’s state flag and East Timor’s coat of arms.

In May 2012 BrandLab agency estimated the real value of the brand Kalashnikov at $10 billion and its potential value, at $100-150 billion.

In August 2013 the Izhmash plant and the Izhevsk Mechanical Plant established the Kalashnikov Concern that the designer granted free copyright. The holding will produce up to 95 percent of Russian firearms. A hefty 3.7 billion roubles ($112 million) is to be invested in the company over two years for the holding’s turnover to reach 30 billion roubles (about $900 million) by 2020.

Kalashnikov’s popularity worldwide is striking. They say people in Mozambique give their boys the name Kalash hoping it will lend them the spirit of freedom and the ability to fight for it. The designer joked that not only Kalashnikovs but also Kalashes were wandering around the world, adding it was good to pay no alimonies.

The draftees of the National People’s Army in East Germany called their rifles Kashi. Israeli soldiers nicknamed the much desired trophy as 'Kalach', while U.S. Vietnam war veterans are still reverent about the unconquerable Vietcong rifles - the AKs, which could be literally bathed in mud and still remain operational even when its arch foe, government-issue М-16 failed.

The man who has managed to produce such a weapon was certainly an extraordinary personality. His rifles, books, numerous witty catch phrases and contemporaries’ recollections are now parts of the collective memory about the fabulous designer.

It is the hardships of everyday life that made Kalashnikov dedicate himself to making and inventing weapons: “I would rather prefer to invent machinery to ease tough farm work... World War II turned me a different way... It is the Germans who are to blame I've become an arms designer.”

A reporter for the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda recalls his encounters with the famous rifle-maker. “The first thing that stocked to my memory was his eyes. Bright blue, not bleached over years, clever - they seemed to always kind of laugh at you. The second thing was cucumbers. I will never forget the way he taught me to pickle them. He said: 'You should lay them in the jar like cartridges!' Another thing is he was a man of genius. He could not live without inventing, and he invented a bunch of things after the rifle, including an automatic barbecue roll-over device.”

“We have met several times, and the last time I saw him I wanted to write about his creative laboratory that had been producing the famous Izhevsk firearm for decades.

“What is the difference between you?” I asked his colleagues, grey-haired doctors of sciences. They exchange knowing looks. Then they explained: “You see, we face a task to make the arm dust-proof. What do we, scientists, tend to do? We draw dozens of sketches and diagrams and make the parts fit as closely to each other as possible. And what does Kalashnikov do? He removes all covers to let the dust out…”

Mikhail Kalashnikov knew his real worth. “I will be the first to shake hands with a person who will make a better rifle,” he said. “I had my luck intermingled with disastrous failures: sometimes I was even on the verge of giving up my interest in arms! But overcoming the frustration, I got back to work, I analyzed what was inapt and changed the design concept.”

Mikhail Kalashnikov wrote several autobiographies and to his last days he worked as chief designer at the plant. Even when he was ill, he kept advising his colleagues on the phone.

The nation has paid its last respects to its great hero. Kalashnikov was the only man who was decorated with the Hero of the Russian Federation award, the highest title of honour. Twice he was granted the Hero of Socialist Labour medal. He also received the Order of St. Andrew the First-Called, and the Lenin and Stalin Prizes for his special achievements. He was a member of the Union of Russian Writers.


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