Syria: ISIS State Using Russian Weapons – How Did They Get There?

  • Syrian rebels are modifying Soviet Era weapons.
  • The Soviets sent Syria their weapons in the 1970s.
  • The weapons are sold at the same price as Kalashnikovs on the black market.

A report surfaced on social media among security groups pertaining to Syrian rebels use of outdated Russian weapons. Currently the most common ones are the Shpagin and Degterev style of weapons that were produced over 100 years ago and still are operational. Additionally, Mosin Nagant weapons from the Czarist Russia epoch have also been seen.

The original Czarist Russian rifle.

In 1882, the Main Artillery Directorate of the Russian Empire set the task of developing a multi-shot, “repeat” rifle. In 1883, the “commission for testing store guns” was formed (at that time, any long-barreled hand guns were called guns, and the word “rifle” meant a type of gun) under the chairmanship of Major General N. I. Chagin.

As a result of the tedious work of the Russian army, in 1889 two systems of magazine rifles were presented as options: a Russian system developed by Captain S. I. Mosin, and a Belgian system developed by Leon Nagan. Tests revealed some superiority of the Belgian rifle over the Russian. In any case, the officers and soldiers who took part in the small arms weapons test spoke out in favor of the Nagan rifle. However, Russian command  took into account that for all its excellent qualities, the Belgian rifle misfired twice as much as the Mosin rifle. The Russian rifle was simpler and cheaper to manufacture as well. In the end, members of the commission made a compromise: in 1891, the Mosin rifle was adopted by the Russian army, on which a 5-charge Nagan design store was installed.

The original 3-line weapons.

In 1891 the weapon prototype was fully approved, but without a Russian design it was named instead the 1891 three-line rifle. Manufacturing began in 1892 by three Russian factories. Due to high demand one order was given to the French gun maker Manufacture Nationale d’Armes de Châtelleraut, often abbreviated to MAC (“Châtellerault Arms Manufacturer” in English). MAC was a French state-owned weapon manufacturer installed in the town of Châtellerault. It was created by royal decree on July 14, 1819 for the purpose of manufacturing swords, then (after 1850) firearms and cannons. From 1804, Antoine Treuille de Beaulieu (1809–1885) began to develop the concept of rifled guns in the French Army.

The AK-47.

The old Soviet weapons are sold on the black market almost at the same price as a Kalashnikov rifle, which is any one of a series of automatic rifles based on the original design of Mikhail Kalashnikov. They are officially known in Russian as “Avtomat Kalashnikova,” but are widely known as Kalashnikovs, or AK-47s.

Besides using the old weapons, the Syrian rebels also modernize them. The Islamic State and other terrorist organizations are modifying the 1941 PPSh assault rifle. The modified assault rifle received a new barrel, stock and forend, but the classic Soviet weapon layout remained unchanged.

The “original” PPSh rifles are repaired, receive new stocks and even optics. One “modified” PPSh, instead of having a native stock, received a handle from a pump-action shotgun and was turned by gunsmiths into a kind of “sawn-off shotgun”

The PPSh-41 is a Soviet submachine gun designed by Georgy Shpagin as a cheap, reliable, and simplified alternative to the PPD-40 (common nickname is “papasha” meaning “daddy”). The PPSh is a magazine-fed selective fire submachine gun using an open bolt, blowback action. Made largely of stamped steel, it can be loaded with either a box or drum magazine and fires the 7.62×25mm Tokarev pistol round.

The Russian weapons originally came to Syria during the 1970s. At the time, the Soviet Union and Syria had bilateral relationship. The Soviets also opened a Naval Base in Syria in 1971. A relationship with Syria was very important for the Red Army, especially during the Cold War era. The KGB was the biggest player in Syria at the time, according to one defector Vasilii Mitroshkin and other intelligence gathering. Mitrokhin was a major and senior archivist for the Soviet Union’s foreign intelligence service, the First Chief Directorate of the KGB, who defected to the United Kingdom in 1992.

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Christina Kitova

I spent most of my professional life in finance, insurance risk management litigation.

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