Mikhail Kalashnikov, the designer of the AK-47 assault rifle, lived his final months filled with remorse over the people his gun killed, a letter to the head of the Russian Orthodox Church reveals.
Kalashnikov, who died in December aged 94, wrote a lengthy and emotional letter in April to the church's Patriarch, Kirill, according to a report in the a pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia on Monday.
If my rifle took away people's lives, then can it be that I... am guilty for people's deaths?
"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 typed letter on Kalashnikov's personal writing paper, reproduced by Izvestia, is signed with a wavering hand by the man who describes himself as "a slave of God, the designer Mikhail Kalashnikov."
Hallmark of armed groups
Kalashnikov had previously said he "slept well" when thinking about his gun's widespread use. On the 60th anniversary of its invention in 2007, he said: "It's the politicians who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence."
In 2002, he said: "I'm proud of my invention, but I'm sad that it is used by terrorists."
Kalashnikov, whose funeral was attended by President Vladimir Putin, came up with the durable and simple rifle design after experiencing the Red Army's lack of weapons during World War II.
The AK-47 is now manufactured unlicensed around the world and has become a visual hallmark of armed movements, including those using child soldiers.
The patriarch's press secretary, Alexander Volkov, told Izvestia that the church leader received the letter and wrote a personal reply.
"The church has a very definite position: when weapons serve to protect the fatherland, the church supports both its creators and the soldiers who use it," Volkov said. "He designed this rifle to defend his country, not so terrorists could use it in Saudi Arabia."