Yesterday, September 19,2017 the Russians unveiled a new monument to Russian firearm designer Mikhail Kalashnikov during an official ceremony in Moscow. Kalashnikov, who died in 2013 at age 94 in the city of Izhevsk, and was most famous for his design and construction of the AK-47 assault rifle.
Kalashnikov came from humble origins; he was born into a Siberian peasant family in 1919. He was wounded in the 1941 battle of Bryansk, and spent several months recovering in a hospital. While on the mend, he heard other soldiers complaining about how the Red Army's rifles were inferior to those wielded by the Nazis, and he began to work on designs of his own. The army put him to work as a designer and he was successful in designing the rifle in 1947 – hence the name Avtomat Kalashnikova (19)47.
He told his story in a book in 1992, a signed copy of which he gave to me at the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the invention in 1997, held by his friends and comrades at the Russian military art studio named after MB Grekova, in Moscow. The Russian military support this studio of military artists and, in addition to a large gallery of art, it also houses the atelier of thirty masters of painting, graphics and sculpture.
I was invited to the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary by some friends in the Russian military and in Rosvooruzhenie (the main Russian arms corporation). Rosvooruzhenie was more than just a centralised arms business. In many ways it was a club of ex-military officers and GRU retirees. They had all taken up posts in the arms companies and were the liaison between the companies and the military. I was, I believe, the only non-Russian there. It was very enlightening; enlightening because people spoke frankly. Marshal Yevgeny Shaposhnikov made an eloquent speech and toast on behalf of Rosvooruzhenie praising the work of Kalashnikov and the importance of the military industry in maintaining Russia’s military might and commercial power.
I was impressed when Kalashnikov responded. He thanked everyone for the hospitality and the kind wishes but expressed his dismay at the worldwide dissemination of the rifle. He said that he had invented the rifle to protect the lives and safety of his fellow Russian soldiers and that he was disappointed that the rifle he produced was now available in all the corners of the world and had been used to kill his fellow Russian soldiers when they were sold to Russia’s enemies or licensed to strangers to produce. I had a chat with him and he gave me a signed copy of his book and a gold Kalashnikov lapel pin from that meeting.
He was a pleasant and dedicated man.