Equipped with a shiny new logo, shrugging off US sanctions and claiming its guns are “protecting peace”, the Russian weapons manufacturer Kalashnikov launched a major rebranding drive in Moscow on Tuesday.
Kalashnikov Concern, a new overarching brand that includes the famed assault rifles as well as hunting and sports weaponry, paid a leading Russian agency to design a new brand and renew its worldwide image, even as US sanctions against Russia have stopped orders of the rifles from the US and Canada.
“The Kalashnikov is a Russian symbol that is known across the world,” said Alexei Krivoruchko, Kalashnikov’s chief executive. “The rebranding is a symbol of changes in the way our business works and our product lines that have been long in the making. The new brand will reflect our main principles: reliability, responsibility and technological efficiency.”
Sergei Chemezov, head of Russian Technologies, a state corporation with a controlling stake in Kalashnikov, said he hoped the new brand would become as well known as Apple across the world.
The company’s most famous gun was developed by the Soviet engineer Mikhail Kalashnikov in 1947 and quickly became a mainstay of wars and civil conflicts across the world, known for its ease of use and reliability. The weapons are manufactured at a plant in Izhevsk, a city in Russia’s Urals region.
A slickly produced marketing video produced for the launch of the new brand describes the Kalashnikov as a “weapon of peace”, giving a somewhat edited version of its history that glosses over the numerous messy civil wars in which it has been the main instrument of killing.
“The gun was made for the defence of a country that was living through the cold war and had to be prepared for a major intervention,” says the video voiceover. “The simple and reliable AK was also in demand well beyond the borders of the Soviet Union.
“It precipitated not just a technological but a social revolution. Freedom movements in Africa, Asia and Latin America could at last fight back against professional colonial armies. The AK-47 gave them the chance to demand rights and achieve justice. This is a weapon which helped people defend their families and futures, and demand the right to a peaceful future.”
A second video features a reconstruction of a Russian special forces operation against terrorist suspects in the northern Caucasus, with dramatic music in the background and statistics flashing up about how many terrorists have been “liquidated” by Russian troops in recent years. It ends with the phrase: “Kalashnikov: promoting peace and calm.”
Krivoruchko said on Tuesday that a huge contract to supply up to 200,000 weapons a year to the US and Canada is still on hold after Washington slapped sanctions on Russian defence companies including Kalashnikov over the summer, in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. The US accuses Russia of backing the insurgency in east Ukraine, where Kalashnikov rifles are used both by the insurgents and the Ukrainian forces.
Kalashnikov was meant to supply between 80,000 and 200,000 sporting rifles and shotguns annually to a US importer for the next five years, under an agreement signed in January, but Krivoruchko said not a single gun had been delivered. Instead, the firm is exploring new markets in Asia.
Kalashnikov Concern was created by a merger of the Kalashnikov brand, Baikal hunting rifles and Izhmash sports rifles. Kalashnikov Concern plans to release a range of sportswear and knives as well as its traditional lines of weaponry. The rebranding, by a Moscow-based PR firm, was reported to have cost about 20m roubles (£250,000).
Kalashnikov Concern gets a new black-and-red CK logo (not to be confused with Calvin Klein), while the rifle brand gets a red K, which looks more like the logo of a supermarket or chemist chain than that of an internationally renowned killing machine, but on close inspection can be seen to contain the distinctive curved magazine used in Kalashnikov assault rifles.
Kalashnikov himself died last year in Izhevsk , aged 94. Shortly before his death he wrote a letter of repentance to the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, asking whether he should seek forgiveness for creating a weapon that had been responsible for so much death. The patriarch reportedly replied that the weapon had been used “in defence of the motherland” and said Kalashnikov had given an example of “patriotism and serving one’s country”.
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