Small Arms of the Ukraine-Russia Conflict


As tensions rise in Ukraine, a number of Eastern Bloc weapons are showing up in the news, often in the hands of soldiers bearing no identification.  Here’s a look at some of the firearms seen in the news:


The AK-74M traces its lineage through the venerable AK-47.  Like it’s ancestors, the AK-47 and the AKM, the AK-74M utilizes a long-stroke piston and relatively loose tolerances to create a very reliable, albeit slightly less accurate, firearm.

Inner workings of the long stroke gas piston, AK-47/AK-74 weapon system

Unlike the AK-47 and AKM, which use a 7.62x39mm bullet, the AK-74m fires a 5.45x39mm round.  Although less capable in terms of penetration than the hard-hitting 7.62x39mm, the 5.45x39mm round is significantly lighter, enabling soldiers to carry more ammunition and to have greater control of their weapon during fully-automatic firing.

The AK-74M is in use by both Russian and Ukrainian forces, and is often seen outfitted with a GP series grenade launcher, also in use by both nations.


The PKM is a general-purpose machinegun nearly ubiquitous in Eastern Bloc militaries, with both Russian and Ukrainian forces fielding the weapon.  The gun is a belt fed, air-cooled, gas operated machinegun that, like the AK-74M, uses a long stroke gas piston.  The gun fires automatic-only from an open bolt.

The PK fires the 7.62x54r, a rimmed cartridge first introduced into military service in 1891 with the adoption of the Mosin-Nagant rifle by the Russian Empire.  The round holds the record of the longest-used military cartridge in the world, and is used in a wide variety of firearms.


Dragunov SVD

Although generally regarded as a sniper rifle, the Dragunov SVD fulfills a role similar to American designated marksman rifles by allowing a squad members to have a significantly more accurate, long range firearm than the standard infantry rifle, which is optimized for low to medium range engagements.

The Dragunov, first introduced in 1963, fires the same 7.62x54r round as the PKM.  Unlike the PKM and AK-74, the rifle uses a short-stroke gas piston and a 10-round magazine.

The rifle is in use by both Russian and Ukrainian forces.  However, the version in the picture above is a specialized paratrooper version issued only to Russian forces.  This would suggest that the soldier above, despite lacking identification, is either a member of Russian armed forces or working for a Russian private military contractor.

Short stroke gas piston system


The PKP is a modernized version of the PKM used by Russian, but not Ukrainian, forces.  The primary difference between the PKM and the PKP is that the PKP does not have a field-replaceable barrel.  However, the standard barrel is thicker and has specially designed groves that allow for faster cooling.  Like the PKM, the PKP uses the 7.62x54r round.

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