In a regretful letter penned a few months before his death, Mikhail Kalashnikov, the designer of the AK-47 assault rifle, asked the head of the Russian Orthodox Church if he was to blame for the deaths of those killed by his weapon.
The Russian daily Izvestia on Monday published the letter, in which Kalashnikov, who died last month at 94, told Patriarch Kirill that he kept asking himself if he was responsible. The AK-47 is the world's most popular firearm, with an estimated 100 million spread around the globe.
"The pain in my soul is unbearable. I keep asking myself the same unsolvable question: If my assault rifle took people's lives, it means that I, Mikhail Kalashnikov, … son of a farmer and Orthodox Christian, am responsible for people's deaths," he said in the letter.
The rifle's simplicity and reliability made it a weapon of choice for the Third World insurgents backed by the Soviet Union. Moscow not only distributed the AK-47 widely but also licensed its production in some 30 other countries.
The letter, which was sent in April, contrasted sharply with past statements by Kalashnikov, who had repeatedly said in interviews and public speeches that he created the weapon to protect his country and couldn't be blamed for other people's action.
The church sought to comfort him with the same argument. Izvestia quoted Kirill's spokesman as saying the patriarch responded to Kalashnikov and praised him as a true patriot.