Tourists flying out of Moscow now can augment their airport purchases with perhaps the ultimate Russian souvenir: a realistic (but non-functioning) AK-47 rifle. Kalashnikov Group has opened a gift shop in Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport.
The newly opened boutique is located in a terminal that connects to the airport via pedestrian walkways.
The sleekly designed shop sells an array of ball caps, pens, t-shirts, non-poison-tipped umbrellas and other items emblazoned with the Kalashnikov logo. The main attractions, though, are the replica rifles and pistols.
One rifle resembles the iconic AK-47. Another appears to be a Vityaz submachine gun. A pistol duplicates a 9 mm Makarov.
“Kalashnikov is one of the most popular brands that springs to mind when people all around the world come to think about Russia," the company's marketing director, Vladimir Dmitriev, said in a statement. "That is why we are happy to give everyone who came to visit Russia an opportunity to take home a souvenir with Kalashnikov logo."
Magazines are not listed in the Kalashnikov store press release. Tourists wishing to buy those likely will have to settle for the more prosaic paper versions.
When not selling fakes at the airport, the company produces genuine firearms. These include banned-in-California automatic rifles with 30-round magazines.
The Kalashnikov name, as the company spokesman suggested, is associated with what has been termed the world's most famous military rifle: the AK-47. The weapon is a decades-long favorite of regular armed forces and guerrilla groups around the world.
The rifle was invented by a Red Army tank commander, Mikhail Kalashnikov, during World War II. Kalashnikov was wounded in action, and spent many months recuperating in a hospital. While there, he encountered Soviet troops who lamented that their rifles were no match for enemy German firearms.
Kalashnikov vowed to design a superior weapon: The result was the Avtomat Kalashnikova, "the automatic weapon of Kalashnikov." The fledgling weapons designer completed his final version of the rifle in 1947. The firearm henceforth was known as the AK-47.
The rifle is not perfect. Critics charge that the AK-47 is not accurate, and is best used for "spray and pray" style shooting, meaning that the operator spews rounds while beseeching otherworldly assistance for help in hitting the target. What the rifle lacks in accuracy, though, it makes up for in durability. The weapon reputedly can be left to wallow in mud for long periods of time, to be retrieved in full working order.
The rifle also is relatively cheap to produce, compared to Western military counterparts. As a result, the AK-47 and its variants have become embedded with non-Western military and guerrilla forces throughout the world.
The airport souvenirs are not intended for use on board aircraft. The gift shop rifle replicas must be stowed inside airplane underbellies, along with other luggage.
The same condition would apply in the United States. "Replica firearms are for checked baggage only," Transportation and Security Administration spokesman Mike England told AMI Newswire. "They are not allowed at the checkpoint. They could not get through TSA."
Local laws would decide whether a similar gift shop could exist at an American airport. "We don't control the airports," England said. "We only control the checkpoints."
The Kalashnikov company seems less focused on perceived security issues than on shopper sentiment.
"Opening a branded shop in the airport that retains a leading position in terms of passenger traffic of our country is a totally reasonable step towards consumer adoption and building customer loyalty," Dmitriev said. "We hope that people would highly evaluate our initiative and buy our company souvenirs as a memory of their trip.”
One Russian weapons enthusiast was unimpressed when told about the new airport souvenir shop.
"This is amusing," said Mikhail Guskov, who lives in the United States and travels frequently to Russia. "I will browse the store when I go. I will not buy."
Does he fear problems with U.S. Customs? "Nyet. I will not purchase the fake when I can own real thing."
The gift shop is located on the third floor of the airport's Aeroexpress Terminal.