"It's so easy, even a child can use it - and they do." A teenager holds an AK-47 Kalashnikov during a military-patriotic game at a Russian summer camp
DANIL SEMYONOV/AFP--Getty Images
By Geoffrey Smith
July 29, 2014

You can quibble about some of their business practices, but no-one can accuse the Russian arms industry of a lack of empathy with its loyal customers.

Last week, President Barack Obama thwarted the ambition of gun enthusiasts and police officers across the country to have their very own government-issue Kalashnikov, slapping sanctions on the Volga-based IzhMash company that makes the legendary semi-automatic.

You might expect that rarity of rarities–an internationally competitive Russian manufacturer–to curl up in a ball with self-pity on being barred from what, in peacetime at least, is the world’s most lucrative firearms market. But not a bit of it. Gun enthusiasts of America, the makers of the AK-47 want you to know: they feel your pain.

“The given situation shows yet again that our weapons are very popular with Americans and that the sanctions introduced are at odds their own interests. The Kalashnikov company is sorry that consumers had to encounter such a problem,” spokeswoman Ekaterina Boni told the news agency Itar-Tass Tuesday, putting on the kind of brave face that would have gone down well at Stalingrad.

IzhMash was one of four companies controlled by the state-owned Rostekhnologii defense conglomerate to be named on a new list of sanctions announced last week by the U.S. government, in response to Russia’s role in supporting the rebellion in eastern Ukraine. The new measures still allow owners of Kalashnikovs to resell them as long as they are fully paid for, but no new weapons can be bought.

Behind the stoicism, the company is hurting: two years ago, IzhMash had appeared to be on the verge of cracking the U.S. market, claiming it sealed several contracts to supply U.S. police forces with its the 12-gauge shotgun version of its Sayga-12 (gun websites were abuzz with the news for a couple of weeks but actual confirmation of those orders from U.S. P.D.s is harder to find).

And in January, at this year’s Las Vegas Shot Show, it signed a framework agreement to increase exports of hunting and sporting rifles and shotguns to 200,000 units a year.

Now, alas, the Kalashnikov looks set to remain what it always was in the U.S. – a thing of legend, immortalised by movie characters from Rambo to James Bond and Nicholas Cage’s Yuri Orlov in Lord of War (not to mention Samuel L. Jackson’s loving, lyrical and wholly unprintable tribute to it in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown).

One consolation for the company, perhaps, is that Mikhail Kalashnikov, the gunsmith who invented the AK-47 during World War 2, didn’t live to experience the snub. Kalashnikov died in 2013 at the age of 94, revered as a national hero.

A broader list of sanctions aimed at hitting more vital parts of the Russian economy was set to be announced by the E.U. Tuesday. The latest measures, which have been widely trailed in the European media, are likely to include a arms embargo and bans on exports of specialist equipment for the oil and gas industry, the heart of Russia’s economy.

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