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Have Assault Rifle (Replica), Will Travel: Kalashnikov Opens Shop At Moscow Airport

  • Tom Balmforth

A man walks past the Kalashnikov shop at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport.

A man walks past the Kalashnikov shop at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport.

MOSCOW -- Forget duty-free vodka and "matryoshka" dolls: Travelers looking for a last-minute souvenir of Russia can now pick up an assault rifle -- well, a plastic replica -- before heading for flights out of Moscow's main airport.

Arms manufacturer Kalashnikov has opened a shop at the terminal of a train that carries passengers from central Moscow to Sheremetyevo International Airport.

Along with less striking souvenirs such as pens, backpacks, and caps, the boutique sells replicas of assault rifles and pistols.

The plastic mock-ups do not fire and do not require a license, but they look real and they don't come cheap. According to prices listed on the gunmaker's website, the replica AK-74 assault rifle costs 34,500 rubles ($540).

An MP 654K replica pistol fitted with a silencer costs 7,300 rubles ($115).

The shop also stocks T-shirts, flash cards, wallets, and camouflage coats with the logo of the producer of the world's most famous assault rifle, the AK-47 -- a red letter K with a part that looks like the gun's distinctive curved magazine. T-shirt designs feature slogans such as "I [heart] AK" and "I'm your father" with a picture of a rifle with an optic sight.

"Kalashnikov is one of the most popular brands that comes to the mind of most people when they hear of Russia so we are happy to provide the opportunity to everyone who wants to take away from Russia a souvenir with our company brand," Kalashnikov marketing chief Vladimir Dmitriyev said in a press release.

Buyers will have to check in their fake guns before boarding, however. Both flagship Russian carrier Aeroflot's rules and a Sheremetyevo phone helpline said replica weapons are allowed only in check-in luggage, and the airport said that during security checks at the airport entrance, staff may inspect the item and ask for documentation, including receipts.

In e-mailed comments, Sheremetyevo said that the Aeroexpress train terminal, where the Kalashnikov shop is located, is not managed by the airport, and that "there have been no cases of a conflict situation arising" since it opened on August 16.

"But this question is important," it said. "The situation is being monitored by our aviation security service. In the event that instances of conflict regularly arise that have an impact on the provision of passenger security, we do not rule out the possibility of establishing product-range recommendations for our commercial partners."

Many other airlines prohibit toy guns in the cabin, and some airports bar them as well.

Military Publicity

The opening of Kalashnikov's first souvenir shop appears to be part of a marketing push by the arms firm, which coincides with a publicity drive by the Russian military.

The Kremlin's annexation of Crimea in March 2014 was hailed in Russia as a victory for national military might, and the military has sought to cash in, among other things opening a series of boutiques in Moscow where it sold designer clothing with Russian military insignia, slogans, and pictures of President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. A branch was even opened directly opposite the U.S. Embassy.

Russian state media covering the opening of the Kalashnikov store did not question the choice of location. To the backing of upbeat electronic music, a video report on state news agency RIA Novosti showed people happily perusing the Kalashnikov gadgets and replica weapons. In another report, a photographer could be seen posing with an assault rifle raised in one hand and his camera in other.

But comments on social media reflected surprise at the decision to sell realistic-looking toy guns in a major transport hub that has had metal detectors at its entrances and beefed-up security since a suicide bomb blast ripped through the arrivals section at Moscow's Domodedovo airport in January 2011, killing 37 people.

"Great location, make the purchase and then go and scare passengers going into duty free," mused one Twitter user sarcastically.

"And will the happy buyers go onto planes with these 'replicas'? Aren't you afraid the planes will stop flying?" asked prominent Russian journalist Vitaly Tretyakov.

An evident Kalashnikov supporter, however, pushed back on the criticism, writing that "these replicas have been sold on the Internet for 10 years, if not more, and planes for the time being have been flying."

Moscow airports have proved something of a target for patriotic, nationalist advertising. Putin T-shirts are sold in vending machines. A recent ad campaign by the ultranationalist Liberal Democrat Party calls for the "return of the borders of the U.S.S.R."

Last year, passengers arriving at Sheremetyevo passed a 2-meter tall cardboard soldier holding a machine gun and the message "Russians are polite people" -- a reference to Russia's informal name for its soldiers who seized control of Crimea -- apparently used this time as an advertisement for a shopping center.

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