Russian guns - both antique and modern - are some of the most highly sought-after in the world. Gun enthusiasts idolize firearm inventors like Tokarev, Makarov, Kalashnikov, and Mosin the way a teenager does the members of a pop band. We'll take a look at five of the most used, collected, and influential Russian guns since the 20th century.
Most Well-Known Russian Pistols
Modern Russian pistols are largely supplied from a design bureau in the same town as Tula Ammo. Some new models serve as the standard for various branches of military and police, but the Tokarev TT and Makarov pistol continue to hold their place of honor for official use.
Tokarev TT Pistol
Developed by Fedor Tokarev in the early 1930’s, the now out-of-production Tokarev pistol was the Red Army standard handgun until 1952. The TT uses the 7.62×25mm Tokarev cartridge and Browning's short recoil tilting-barrel system from the M1911 pistol.
Throughout its short time as the most cutting-edge design in Russian pistols, it was prized for being powerful, reliable, easy-to-maintain, and inexpensive-to-produce. Notably, it was the first pistol in the world with an entire trigger mechanism that could easily be removed as a separate part. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990’s, the TT remained the Russian mafia’s main weapon of choice.
The Soviet military however, soon began searching for an alternative to become their Red Army standard firearm. The Tokarev TT had one major drawback: a lack of a safety mechanism. The pistol had a half-cock notch which prevented the trigger from being engaged until the hammer was manually maneuvered into the correct position. This was a marginal, but often ineffective guard against misfire. Multiple shot legs and dropped misfires later, the Tokarev TT was replaced with the Makarov pistol.
Nikolay Makarov reportedly copied many features from the Walther PPK to create the Makarov pistol. Heavy for its size and wielding a stiff trigger-pull, this double-action pistol firing 9x18mm Makarov rounds was a welcomed upgrade as the new Red Army standard handgun.
Two main factors brought about the Makarov pistol. First and foremost, the Soviet military desired to standardize the pistol round used and 9x18mm round was plentiful both in Russia and allied countries. Second, while hating the Nazis, Soviet officials had a deep appreciation for their guns. The German design elements of the Makarov pistol made it seem more modern in the eyes of USSR leaders. It also became a favorite of state security agents in the USSR and in Soviet-allied countries.
All-in-all, the Makarov pistol was better-made than the Tokarev, less clumsy, and actually possessed a safety. Unlike the out-of-production Tokarev it replaced, the Makarov pistol remains in production in Russia, China, and Bulgaria. Russian manufacturers Tula Ammo and Barnaul Ammo continue to supply 9x18mm Makarov rounds for anyone looking to feed their pistol with bullets from the homeland.
Other Prolific Russian Guns
More than handguns, Russian platforms are most known for their contributions to the firearm landscape in the form the the RPG-7, the Kalashnikov Light Machine Gun (RPK), and the AK-47.
Though frequently called a “Rocket Propelled Grenade,” the translation for the Russian Ruchnoy Protivotankovvy Granatomyot actually titles the RPG-7 a “hand-held anti-tank grenade launcher.” The predecessor to the 7 model was the RPG-2--an anti-tank armament based on the World War II German Panzerfaust and US Bazooka. The RPG-7 improved upon the range and armor penetration capability of the earlier model.
Among Russian guns, the RPG-7 has become one of the most widely used anti-armor weapons in the world. Ruggedness, simplicity, low cost, and effectiveness make it a desirable choice for combat against opponents wielding heavy artillery.
Kalashnikov Light Machine Gun (RPK)
1944 marked a significant increase in the Red Army’s offensive military operations. Thus, the infantry needed a lightweight and nimble machine gun. With the already widespread success of the Kalashnikov’s AK platforms, creating the RPK to function similarly made adoption of this light machine gun a breeze.
Down to using the same 7.62×39mm ammunition, the RPK functions identically to the AK-47. A thicker and longer barrel increases the RPK's effective range and accuracy and enhances its sustained fire capability without permanent loss in accuracy.
The barrel of the RPK-16 improves even further upon its previous generations with an interchangeable barrel to adapt to various mission scenarios. The short barrel can apply toward fighting on the street or between structures while the longer barrel attaches for open ground or desert operations. This also serves the practical purpose of allowing a soldier to replace a worn out or defective barrel with a new one without having to send it to a workshop or manufacturer.
Completed in 1947 by Soviet Senior Sergeant Mikhail Kalashnikov, on the whole, the AK-47 is one of the deadliest weapons ever built. Its kill count even rivals nuclear weapons in sheer numbers. The AK-47 is chambered for the 7.62×39mm round. This medium-powered cartridge is not quite powerful enough for long-range sniping duty, but more than adequate to cause deadly wounds within the ranges at which almost all combat occurs.
The AK-47 has become the most recognizable weapon not only among Russian guns, but all weaponry across all time. While the Tokarev TT and the Makarov pistol have had some competition for Russian loyalty from the Glock platform, nothing--including American attempts to match AK performance with the M-16--quite compares to the AK-47 in popularity and all-around effectiveness.
Over 30 countries produce some 200 different types of Kalashnikovs around the world. Being both popular and produced en-masse has done nothing, however, to reduce the cost of acquiring these Russian guns as a civilian. According to a report from Global Financial Integrity, the price of an AK-47 increases the further it travels the more the price of the AK-47 increases. A smuggled rifle crossing the U.S.-Canada border may go up in price by as much as 560 percent.
The AK-47 rose sharply in popularity among the US military and Soviet allies following the Vietnam war. This “any man's gun” levelled the playing field between guerilla fighters and a superpower military force. The closest contest piece the US had at the time was the M-16, and it was riddled with maintenance issues--even known to frequently jam in battle. Once the greater 30-round capacity and dependability of the Kalashnikov was realized, many American grunts took to picking up conquered enemy AK-47’s at every opportunity.
It quickly became apparent that anyone--from instructed recruits to untrained child soldiers--could master the basics of its few moving parts in a short amount of time. Among Russian guns, the AK-47 was so simple that “it could be disassembled and reassembled by Slavic schoolboys in less than 30 seconds flat” and so reliable that “even when soaked in bog water and coated with sand...its Soviet testers had trouble making it jam.”
These Russian guns continue to be highly prized models for militaries and collectors alike. Do you have a favorite Russian firearm model?