Mikhail Kalashnikov, the Russian who designed an assault rifle that has killed more people than any other firearm, has died at the age of 94. He passed away in his home city of Izhevsk near the Ural mountains, where his gun is still made, reports Russian state news agency Itar-Tass.
His name became iconic, like Colt or Gatling before him, because of an instrument of death; the iconic AK-47 assault rifle, better known as the Kalashnikov.
Mikhail Kalashnikov was born in 1919 in Kouria, the 17th of 19 children in a Kulak farming family. Deported by Stalin, who seized the land for collectivisation, little Mikhail lived in Siberia until age 11.
He became a tank driver and was injured in 1941 as the Germans invaded. Convalescing in hospital he doodled a small, rapid, and reliable assault rifle. The state picked up on his design and began production of the Avtomat Kalashnikova in 1947 in the Ijmach factory in Izhevsk, in the Ural mountains. It was a huge success.
More than 100 million are thought to be in use around the world today.
Kalashnikov said: “Everything that is complicated is useless; everything useful is simple. That’s always been my motto.”
His assault rifle has become Russia’s most famous brand, synonymous with ‘made in Russia’, and a quality standard so recognised it has been much imitated and forged. The self-taught engineer complained about this on a visit to the late Hugo Chavez.
“There are countries that make Kalashnikov guns without licence. That is plain theft. It is completely illegal,” he said.
Kalashnikov never felt responsible for unlawful or terrorist acts committed by men using his weapon. That was the fault of others, he repeated.
“Any weapon should only be in the hands of armies to defend their countries, and the fact that there are so many weapons around has nothing to do with the designer. It is the fault of the politicians.”
But he was proud of the legendary status accorded his creation. He claimed even the Americans would have preferred it in Vietnam.
“I saw American soldiers throwing away their M16 rifles and picking up the soviet AK-47 rifles. But it did not stop there. I (saw) it in Iraq again. In bad (climate) conditions, the M16 rifle does not work properly.”
Entering his nineties, Kalashnikov became a Hero of Russia, decorated by President Dmitri Medvedev in Moscow. This followed other decorations, notably the Lenin, Stalin, and Hero of Soviet Labour prizes.