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At a Kremlin ceremony on Gen. Kalashnikov’s 90th birthday, then-President Dmitry Medvedev bestowed upon him the highest state honor — the Hero of Russia gold star medal — and lauded him for creating “the national brand every Russian is proud of.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who once hailed the AK-47 as “a symbol of the creative genius of our people,” on Monday expressed his deep condolences on the designer’s death.

Weapons specialists acknowledge that the AK-47 revolutionized warfare.

“It revolutionized warfare in the sense that insurgents and street armies had access to a reliable weapon that required very little in the way of maintenance and had tremendous destructive power,” said Ms. Oliker. “Has it had an impact? Absolutely.”

The gun’s light weight — about 8 pounds — makes it easy for muscled gunmen and child soldiers alike to wield.

“Together these traits meant that once this weapon was distributed, the small-statured, the mechanically disinclined, the dim-witted, and the untrained might be able to wield, with little difficulty or instruction, a lightweight automatic rifle that could push out blistering fire for the lengths of two or three football fields,” journalist C.J. Chivers writes in “The Gun,” his 2010 book about the AK-47.

“For the purpose for which it was designed — as a device that allowed ordinary men to kill other men without extensive training or undue complications — this was an eminently well-conceived tool,” Mr. Chivers adds.

The AK-47 has been used in conflicts across the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America.

“You would be hard-pressed to find an insurgent group that doesn’t use AK-47s,” Ms. Oliker said.

But Gen. Kalashnikov never became rich off royalties because his invention was never patented.

Gen. Kalashnikov was born into a peasant family on Nov. 10, 1919, in Kurya, a village in south-central Russia. He was one of 18 children.

His determination to design superior firepower for the Soviet Union was crystallized after a shell hit his tank in a battle against Nazi forces in 1941. In a hospital, frustrated by the fact that Soviet weaponry was no match for the advanced guns used by the Nazis, he worked on designs for better rifles.

“Blame the Nazi Germans for making me become a gun designer,” said Gen. Kalashnikov, according to The Associated Press. “I always wanted to construct agricultural machinery.”