Weighing in at less than 10 pounds unloaded and capable of firing 100 rounds a minute under the harshest of conditions, the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle changed the face of modern warfare.
The AK-47 is so effective at killing people, and so ubiquitous, that it is thought to have caused more deaths than artillery fire, airstrikes, and rocket attacks combined. A quarter of a million people are gunned down by bullets from Kalashnikovs every year, according to some estimates.
Even in fiercely militaristic Russia, there is unease about whether it’s appropriate to raise a magnificent statue to the gun’s inventor: a Red Army conscript named Mikhail Kalashnikov, who began working on designs for a new kind of automatic rifle in the hospital after he was injured during the Battle of Bryansk in 1941.
Nonetheless, a 25-foot statue—which shows him holding the weapon is due to be unveiled Tuesday. It looks west down the Garden Ring that loops around central Moscow, according to a report by Radio Free Europe’s Tom Balmforth.
Kalashnikov’s prototype (known as the Avtomat Kalashnikova 46) was successfully tested in 1946 and the revised, more reliable form, known as the AK-47, was submitted for testing the following year, 1947, hence the name.
An estimated 75 million of the weapons have been manufactured since then, with only minor modifications and improvements. It has few moving parts, is simple to take apart and the relatively minor recoil means that even poorly trained fighters can shoot one with reasonable accuracy. Its reliability, price, and ease of use have seen the AK become the weapon of choice for combatants around the world, used by everyone from child soldiers and guerrilla militias to professional armies.
Military and special forces in 106 countries around the globe, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, are now armed with AK-47s, and the image of the AK appears on the flag of Mozambique, as well as coats of arms of Zimbabwe and East Timor.
Saddam Hussein had a gold-plated one.
An extensive 2005 study found that the world’s average price for an AK-47 was just $534. “In much of the world, the Kalashnikov became the everyman’s gun,” wrote C. J. Chivers, a New York Times reporter and author of the 2010 best-seller The Gun: The AK-47 and the Evolution of War.
Kalashnikov was honored by the military during his lifetime, receiving both the Stalin Prize and the Order of the Red Star, and never felt guilty about the mayhem and destruction his creation was synonymous with.
One local resident posted a photograph of an apparent protester at the still-shrouded Kalashnikov statue holding a sign that said, “No to weapons, no to war.”
She wrote: “Man at Kalashnikov pedestal. Humble hero, no posing.”
Another resident, Natalya Seina, told 360, a local media outlet, “This is not artistic, to put it mildly. This is trash. It’s loathsome.”
According to the Moscow Times, that lone protester was arrested and taken away by police officers who did not provide a reason for his detention.