Trump Expands What Obama Started—Banning Russian Rifle Imports
Treasury Department sanctions maker of Vepr rifles
In the world of 7.62-millimeter rifles, Russian-made AKs and Veprs in particular—a group of AK-style variants produced by gunmaker Molot—are highly prized for their quality, durability and killer cool.
Veprs became even more coveted in 2014, when the Obama administration imposed sanctions on competitor Kalashnikov Concern following the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea, halting that company’s exports to the United States.
Molot’s guns, however, remained legal to import. A buying frenzy nevertheless made them harder to come by, raising prices as other sources of Russian-made rifles dried up. Then three years later, the hammer of the U.S. government finally landed on Molot.
On June 20, 2017, the U.S. Treasury Department added Molot to its list of Ukraine-related sanctions “for operating in the arms or related material sector of the Russian Federation and for acting or purporting to act for on behalf of, directly or indirectly, Kalashnikov Concern,” the Treasury Department said in a statement.
The U.S. government alleges that Kalashnikov advised a foreign company in 2016 to use then-unsanctioned Molot “to falsify invoices” to bypass U.S. and E.U. sanctions.
What’s absolutely clear—the move will spike demand for the remaining Vepr rifles in America. The sanctions do not, of course, mean existing Veprs in the United States are now illegal, only that American buyers can’t legally import any more.
Curiously, the decision is a Trump-era expansion of an Obama-era policy—which the gun lobby once rhetorically blasted.
“These latest sanctions will no doubt engender the idea among some that the Treasury Department is using a geopolitical crisis as a convenient excuse to advance the president’s domestic anti-gun agenda,” the National Rifle Association and its lobbying body, the Institute for Legislative Action, stated in 2014.
At left, a man firing a Vepr rifle with a forward-mounted scout scope. Davidwhitewolf photos via Flickr
The gun lobby didn’t end there. In December 2015, the NRA sent a delegation to Russia and met with deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s defense industry chief whom the Obama administration had also slapped with sanctions. It’s important to note that merely talking to a sanctioned individual—I’ve done so myself in the course of reporting—is not illegal.
Rogozin is also chairman of the Russian Shooting Federation, and once called on the actor Steven Seagal to lobby for looser restrictions on Russian arms imports into the United States.
The NRA went on to spend more than $30 million supporting Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign. But the gun lobby has been quiet after the Trump administration’s sanctions on Molot.
Gun owners took notice. “The end result is that we’ll soon see the flow of Molot-made Veprs slow to a trickle and then stop completely,” the blog Truth About Guns wrote.
FIME Group, a U.S. distributor of Molot’s wares, demurred after the ban. “As the exclusive importer of Molot products, we are in the process of reviewing the implications of the sanctions before we are able to make any additional announcements,” the company stated.
Semi-automatic Vepr rifles have a reputation for accuracy and reliability, and often sell for higher prices than comparable AK-style weapons. Despite the outward appearance, they are technically based on the RPK light machine gun and share the RPK’s heavier barrel and reinforced receiver.
For more information on the Vepr, here’s a detailed video from Mishaco, a YouTuber who reviews a fairly enormous amount of military-style weapons:
Refined Russian tooling and long-standing production methods contribute to the rifle’s high quality. The made-in-Russia character further bring with it a powerful cultural cachet—like French wine or Italian haute couture.
The Vepr is an “energizer-freaking bunny,” enthused Rob Ski in a YouTube video published by the AK Operators Union Local 47-74, a popular enthusiast group for AK-type rifles. On Facebook, Ski reacted to the Molot import ban, “This really is blow to AK lovers in USA…”
The import ban now leaves the market to American-made AK-type rifles, such as those manufactured by Century Arms and Palmetto State Armory, Romanian WASR-10s and sturdy Serbian NPAPs, among others.
Kalashnikov USA, an American rifle and shotgun manufacturer, severed ties with Kalashnikov Concern in 2014.
Molot, for its part, has struggled financially for several years, according to a February 2017 report in Kommersant. Several factors include declining exports, the Russian military prioritizing precision-guided weapons in its budget, and increased pressure from authorities on the Russian civilian market before the 2018 World Cup.
The only viable company which could rescue Molot, the paper noted, is Kalashnikov Concern.