El Reg meets Gen Kalashnikov
From firearms to vodka
The Register spoke to the General through his translator, Anna, when he visited the UK in 2004 to launch his AK-branded tipple.
El Reg meets the general.
Have you found this Western mass-marketing experience to be culture shock? I had no real experience of business, and I am only really starting to learn it now. It is very different from what I am used to, but then I have seen a great deal of change taking place in the world.
You fought in WWII, where did you see combat? I was called up for the Red Army in 1938. I served in a special military unit in Kiev, where I finished at tank mechanical school. I was a young man at the time; I had a low army rank of senior sergeant. I was the commander of a T34 tank – which has not become obsolete, even today. I made several improvements to equipment used in the tanks and then I fought in The Great Patriotic War in 1941. In October of that year, there was heavy fighting near Bryansk and I was wounded. While I was in hospital I began to work on the idea of the rifle.
Were you frightened when you were wounded? A war itself is frightening. People die, people who are innocent, on both sides. I was certainly frightened, it is scary.
Are you aware of how much of a cult status the AK-47 has? This cult status did not appear because everyone was praising me, it appeared as the result of good reliability and good design of my weapons. It works with no delays, in any conditions, it is easy to produce and easy to maintain. It was created to defend my country against an enemy with superior weapons.
It seems to be the weapon of choice for freedom fighters and rebels... People who do something illegal also want to use something that is reliable. In this way, you can’t really blame them because they want to survive too. I am unhappy to see my arms being used for crimes.
It’s said that in 1860, Sarah Winchester, from the famous family who developed the Winchester Repeater rifle, was haunted by the ghosts of all the people who had been killed with that gun. Do you have regrets? What I do regret is that these arms have not been used for what they were designed, because I designed those arms to defend my country. Designers are not to be blamed for their products being used illegally; it is the politicians who can’t come to a peaceful solution.
How did you go from arms to alcohol? About five years ago, the management of a factory that made vodka contacted me and asked if I would lend my name to a brand of vodka that would be produced locally.
What’s the Russian way of drinking vodka? If you drink vodka you have to eat well also. We do not abuse it; it is drunk in moderation, as a way of celebrating friendship.
Didn’t the Red Army soldiers have vodka as part of their rations in WWII? Yes, we used to always have vodka with us. You have to remember that our winters are very cold, a little vodka used to boost spirits and give a warm feeling inside.
Were there ever problems with soldiers getting a bit tipsy? You couldn’t say it never happened. Of course, some people could handle it better than others, but in my country we have a saying, which is the rough equivalent of ‘each family has a black sheep’.
Could you handle your vodka? I could hold my own. I used to have a little canister in the tank, where I would accumulate the vodka, and when my boys were cold, I’d give them a little drink. ®
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