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Leonid Bershidsky

Kalashnikov Should Have Made Farm Tools

Blog item on the death of AK-47 designer Mikhail Kalashnikov

Mikhail Kalashnikov, who died yesterday at the age of 94, once designed and built a lawnmower for his own use: Mass-produced mowers weren't available in the Soviet Union. Oh, and he also designed the world's most widely used assault rifle.

A lot of the encomiums and obituaries on Kalashnikov have missed the ironies of a man who became a living symbol of the state and political system that ruined his family. Now, as President Vladimir Putin brings back some of the Soviet era's distinctive features -- such as state domination of the economy, censorship and the exile of dissidents -- the Russian army is preparing to take on the fifth-generation Kalashnikov rifle, the AK-12.