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By Charlie Gao, The National Interest
While Russia’s AK-12 rifle grabbed headlines when serial production was announced in April 2019, not all of Russia’s military and state security forces are getting the latest rifle.
During the May 9th Victory Day parade, special troopers from the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardiya) were seen with the AK-200, a divergent evolution of the AK-74M rifle that is cheaper to procure than the AK-12.
Various upgrades of the AK-74M have shown up at Victory Day parades before. In 2015, a predecessor to the AK-200 called the KM-AK (modernization kit for the AK) was seen. While reports at the time suggested that it would enter mass productions shortly, the KM-AK was not procured in great number. Variants of the AK-74M fitted with the KM-AK kit are known as AK-74MR.
While the AK-74MR may appear similar to the AK-200, the AK-200 is slightly different. On the AK-74MR, the KM-AK kit places a picatinny rail on top of the dust cover via a special dust cover that is pinned into the rear sight base of the AK, requiring removal of the rear sight. The muzzle device is larger, and the safety remains unchanged. The kit also adds rails on the front handguard, a more ergonomic pistol grip, and a stock that can fold and collapse, “AR-style.” Later KM-AK kits also included an “AK-12 style” magazine, with a beveled bottom and clear windows to allow for the easy viewing of rounds.
Comparatively, the AK-200 is built from scratch as a new production rifle, so changes to the receiver allows for a locking picatinny railed dust cover while retaining the rear sight. The muzzle device is changed again to a slotted flash hider similar to those seen on the SVD and PKM, and the safety is upgraded with an extended protrusion to allow for manipulation with the trigger finger. The pistol grip, railed front handguard, folding and collapsing stock, and AK-12 magazine are all carried over from the AK-74MR.
The new AK-12 features all of these upgrades, in addition to a revised barrel, gas system, and handguard design that improves accuracy. But that begs the question, why did Rosgvardiya purchase AK-200s instead of AK-12s?
Increased speed of delivery and lower cost are likely reasons. Due to fewer changes from the AK-74M, the AK-200 is probably cheaper and faster to manufacture, allowing them to get many rifles now. At the same time, the benefits of a getting a new rifle along with the improvements of retaining ironsights and the enhanced safety provide a reason to procure the AK-200 versus KM-AK kits for their existing inventory of AK-74Ms.
Additionally, the AK-200s on parade appear to be fitted with Dedal Narukavnik red dot sights. Furthermore, dedal sights, AK-200, and AK-205 rifles were displayed as Rosgvardiya equipment recently. Using AK-200s and AK-205s with Dedal sights would make Rosgvardiya’s equipment almost totally different than that of the military.
For instance, the Russian military procures 1P87 red dot sights from Valdai, a different company. 1P87s are either directly mounted on picatinny rails, the case on the AK-12, or mounted via a picatinny rail adapter kit that hooks onto to the side dovetail rail of the standard AK-74M (a configuration seen with VDV troops during the 2017 Victory Day parade).
With the procurement of different new uniforms, different new rifles, and different new sights, the Rosgvardia appears to want to distinguish itself logistically and visually from the military and special paramilitary units that proceeded it.
Charlie Gao studied Political and Computer Science at Grinnell College and is a frequent commentator on defense and national security issues.