MOSCOW: Mikhail Kalashnikov started out wanting to make farm equipment, but the harvest he reaped was one of blood as the designer of the AK-47 assault rifle, the world’s most popular firearm.
It was the carnage of World War II, when Nazi Germany overran much of the Soviet Union, which 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 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. He did not give a cause of death.
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 said 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, which jam more sophisticated weapons.
The weapon’s suitability for jungle and desert fighting made it nearly ideal for the Third World insurgents backed by the Soviet Union, and Moscow not only distributed the AK-47 widely but also licensed its production in some 30 other countries.
Kalashnikov joined the Red Army in 1938 and began to show mechanical flair by inventing several modifications for Soviet tanks. He didn’t get rich off royalties, because his invention of the AK-47 was never patented.
“We worked for Socialist society, for the good of the people, which I never regret,” he once said.