When Modern Rifleman broke the news last week that the US Treasury had imposed sanctions against Concern Kalashnikov, the backlash was predictably quick and every bit as intense as I expected. Hailed as an outright ban on Russian AKs, the new sanctions have blown up classified sections Internet-wide as opportunistic sellers successfully dump their Kalashnikov hardware at inflated prices. Meanwhile, even experienced enthusiasts and bloggers have taken up keyboards and cameras to decry the sanctions as “backdoor gun control” and to draw parallels between them and the Clinton-era Chinese firearm/ammunition ban. Given the amount of panic, it is understandable that some readers might be confused over the scoping of the sanctions and what they will mean for the future of Kalashnikov availability in the US. Let’s take a few moments to clear some of this up.
First, the sanctions do indeed apply to both Saigas and Vepr rifles. Following a 2006 ruling by Russian courts, Izhmash took control of most of Molot’s assets. This seizure included the RPK and Vepr lines of production. When Izhmash was reorganized and rebranded as Concern Kalashnikov (aka Kalashnikov Concern) in 2013, Molot was expressly included in the process. Because Molot has also begun importing Mosin-Nagant rifles, some of these will be unavailable to US consumers for the duration of the sanctions.
While surfing AIM Surplus last evening, I noticed that they are sold out of the Pioneer Arms AKM clones, the James River AK-74 replicas, and the Zastava N-PAP rifles. While I will never discourage a peaceable person from buying a firearm, running out to buy up AK builds from any and all nations is simply overkill. The current sanctions are relatively narrow in scope and only affect Russian rifles that are sourced specifically from Concern Kalashnikov.
Many enthusiasts have asked whether Russian ammunition is included in these sanctions. As of now, I have no reason to believe this is the case. Though Concern Kalashnikov has expressed the desire to pull ammunition manufacturing under its umbrella, I have seen no indication that this has actually occurred. Furthermore, most popular Eastern Bloc calibers can be sourced in large quantities from several countries, such as Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary. Importers such as Wolf have also indicated that they have contingency plans to ensure that they are able to provide ammunition to the US market.
Another common question is, “are the sanctions permanent?” At the current time, it is impossible to determine how this situation will play out. I am cautiously optimistic that they will be lifted as soon as Russia abandons its bad behavior in Ukraine. Like it or not, this is an effective way to hit the Russian defense industry. With American consumers making up as much as 30% of Concern Kalashnikov’s business, Russia has been able to practically drive AK-12 development using US Dollars as fuel. These are the sort of consequences we should expect when an interventionist nation, such as Russia, ties civilian arms production so closely with military arms development. Concern Kalashnikov likely could have avoided serious sanction had they decided to make a distinction between the civilian side of the business and their status as a major supplier for the Russian military. While we collectors love the fact that our rifles come from the exact same people who build them for militaries throughout the world, we are left with little recourse when Russia’s belligerence offends the bulk of the Western world.
Fortunately all is not lost, even for Russian AK enthusiasts. Since the sanctions specifically mention Concern Kalashnikov, it is possible that by spinning off the civilian side of production the Ishevsk-based company could resume sales. In doing so, the company would probably need to establish that none of the proceeds from civilian sales would be returned to the defense side of the house. While possible, this is much easier said than done. Concern Kalashnikov would also run the risk of pushing US regulators to an even harsher ban on Russian arms.
For the time being, it is best that all parties remain calm. This is a different situation than previous bans on Chinese and Russian firearms and we should not let those experiences cloud our assessment of the current situation. Enthusiasts who strongly desire a Russian AK should not hesitate to pick one up whenever they can, but panic buyers run the very real risk of overpaying for a rifle that could return in the future.