Just months before his death at 94 years old, the Russian weapons designer credited with creating the AK-47 bared his soul in a letter to his church, asking the question that filled dark hours towards the end of his life: “If my rifle took lives, does it mean that I, Mikhail Kalashnikov, aged 93, a peasant woman’s son, an Orthodox Christian in faith, is guilty of those people’s deaths, even if they were enemies?”
The AK-47, developed for the Russian military during the Second World War, is one of the most ubiquitous of the small arms around the globe nearly 70 years later, known for its ease of use and extreme durability. Used by the Russian armed forces for decades, and copied by the Chinese, the weapon is also a favorite of freedom fighters, terrorists, rebels, militants and other non-state actors the world over – featured in somber pictures in the hands of child soldiers in Africa and in those of al Qaeda recruits in Afghanistan. Kalashnikov estimated in 2006 that over 100 million of his rifles had been produced – only 10 percent of which he believed were produced legally.
The letter, published today in Russia’s popular Izvestia newspaper, was reportedly written in April of last year and reflects on the major events in Kalashnikov’s life and philosophical questions about human nature. According to Russian reports, Kalashnikov said he was baptized as a child but lived most of his life an atheist, until the age of 91 when he turned to God.
“Good and evil coexist side by side, fighting and, worst of all, they resign themselves to each other in the hearts of people – that is what I have come to at the end of this earthly life. It’s similar to the kind of perpetual motion I wanted to invent in my younger years,” he wrote, according to a translation by RT.com.
In 2006 Kalashnikov wrote a letter to the United Nations addressing the illicit small arms trade and the huge role his rifle played.
“It is a source of great sorrow for me that the assault rifle which I designed has produced many casualties,” he wrote then. “I am no stranger to the pain of losing comrades in battle. But the tragedy of innocent lives lost at the hands of terrorists is beyond compare.”
The next year, however, Kalashnikov said at a ceremony marking the sixtieth anniversary of his rifle that he slept “well” when thinking back on his weapon.
“It’s the politicians who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence,” he said then, according to Fox News. “Blame the Nazi Germans for making me become a gun designer… I always wanted to construct agricultural machinery.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and a “host of other high-ranking officials” attended last December’s funeral for Kalashnikov, who holds the title of Hero of Russia, according to Russia’s state-owned RIA Novosti.
RT.com reported that critics of the Russian Orthodox Church claimed the new letter was a fake, but the Kremlin-backed news agency said it had been verified by the church leader.
The letter, if penned by Kalashnikov, appears to show that as death after a long and fruitful life approached, the man credited with making the AK-47 questioned his role providing the tool that prematurely ended the lives of so many others. He wouldn’t be the first weapon designer to do so.
ABC News’ Kirit Radia contributed to this report.