World News

Russia abandons new orders of Kalashnikov AK-74 rifle

CHEBARKUL, Russia (Reuters) - Russia has abandoned new purchases of its popular AK-74 automatic rifle, its top general said on Tuesday, dismantling another symbol of Soviet military might as the army pushes through painful reforms.

Russia plans on spending some 20 trillion roubles ($617 billion) by 2020 in order to modernize its armed forces, refurbishing its armaments with new guns and rockets, submarines and aircraft.

Based on the more prevalent AK-47, the AK-74 was used by servicemen in the Soviet Union’s decade-long war in Afghanistan, which killed 15,000 Soviet troops fighting mujahideen insurgents before Moscow’s dispirited exit in 1989.

The AK-74, designed in the early 1970s by Mikhail Kalashnikov, is still in use in Russia and many other former Soviet countries.

“We are designing new firearms, and we currently have 10 million Kalashnikovs for our army of one million servicemen,” said General Nikolai Makarov, chief of the armed forces general staff.

“So the reserves we have will be more or less enough,” he told Reuters in Chebarkul, some 1,700 km (1,000 miles) east of Moscow where the Russian military was carrying out exercises.

Russia is the world’s second largest arms exporter, supplying post-Soviet allies and markets that shy away from the U.S. domination of the defense market.

But weapon design has slid into decline since the fall of the Soviet Union due to lack of funding, corruption and neglect.

Now arms makers have been charged with redesigning the country’s portfolio, and weapons firm Izhmash will try to present Russia’s armed forces with a new machine gun by the end of this year, Izvestiya newspaper reported.

Makarov told Izvestiya on Tuesday that there were no Russian orders for the AK-74 in 2011 and that none were planned in the coming years.

Mikhail Kalashnikov, 91, was honored as a Hero of Russia by President Dmitry Medvedev on his 90th birthday for the creation of what has been termed the most dangerous weapon in the world, based on the sheer numbers of deaths.

Writing by Thomas Grove; Editing by Rosalind Russell