Russia on Friday buried Mikhail Kalashnikov, the designer of the iconic AK-47 assault rifle that was the favoured weapon of guerrillas worldwide, at a newly-opened cemetery for national heroes.
To the sound of a final salute fired from the AK-47 machine guns that made him world-famous, Kalashnikov was laid to rest with full state honours at the Federal Military Memorial Cemetery (FVMK) in the town of Mytishchi outside Moscow.
In a sign of the importance to Russia of Kalashnikov, who died on Monday at the age of 94, his funeral was attended by President Vladimir Putin, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov.
Putin placed flowers at the coffin of Kalashnikov before the burial and shook hands with his grieving relatives. The coffin was taken to the final resting place in the cemetery accompanied by a guard of honour.
The cemetery aims to be what is described as a “pantheon” for military heroes and top statesmen. The memorial complex was opened by Shoigu in June this year.
He was buried outdoors on an “alley of heroes” reserved for those who have made an irreplaceable contribution to Russia’s development.
Initial reports after his death said that Kalashnikov was to be buried in the city of Izhevsk in the central Udmurtia region where he spent most of his working life.
However officials apparently decided he was a figure of such national significance he needed to be buried in the new cemetery and not in the provinces.
Kalashnikov’s coffin was on Thursday flown to Moscow from Izhevsk where some 60,000 people paid their last respects to him in two days of mourning.
“Today, we are bidding farewell to a person who was a symbol of Russia,” said Deputy Defence Minister Arkady Bakhin at the farewell ceremony, quoted by the state ITAR-TASS news agency.
His daughter Elena said her father had devoted his whole life for the good of the country “without a second thought”. She said her father was likely the last of the group of weapons designers whose work had been inspired by World War II.
Kalashnikov designed a weapon that became synonymous with killing on a sometimes indiscriminate scale. But he has been seen in the Soviet Union and modern Russia as a national hero and symbol of Moscow?s proud military tradition.
Despite the fame of his invention and being garlanded with national honours, Kalashnikov barely profited financially from his exploits and lived out his life modestly in Izhevsk.
Kalashnikov began designing the machine gun during six months leave after being wounded in 1941 in the early battles against Nazi forces in World War II that showed up the deficiencies in Soviet weaponry.
His superiors saw his talent and encouraged his work and in 1945 entered a prototype of the rifle into a competition. In 1947, the design was recommended for use in the Soviet army.
Kalashnikov is one of the first people to be given the honour of being buried in the new cemetery. Also buried there are the remains of an unknown soldier killed in battles outside Smolensk in 1941.
The weapons designer was showered with every possible major decoration in the Soviet Union — Hero of Socialist Labour and winner of the Lenin and Stalin prizes. Modern Russia in 2009 gave him its highest honour — Hero of Russia.
More than 100 million Kalashnikov rifles have been sold worldwide. They are wielded by fighters in such far-flung conflict zones as Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia.
A bayoneted version of the AK-47 rifle has made it onto the national flag of Mozambique. The Kalashnikov also features on the coat of arms of several countries including Zimbabwe and East Timor.