Five Russian Handguns That You DO NOT Want
Some things just aren't talked about in polite company.
While the Makarov and Tokarev are probably the most well known Russian pistols, the Russian Federation and the Soviet Union designed many more. Some of these designs were excellent, others, not so much. Here are some of the worst pistols that were designed or used by Russia, stretching from the imperial era to the current day.
The OTs-23 “Drotik”
The 5.45x18mm Soviet cartridge was primarily designed for the PSM, a very slim and concealable pistol that was primarily used by undercover police and high ranking officers who wanted a pistol that weighed very little. The OTs-23, however, weighs almost one kilogram and is rather large. This makes it kind of pointless, given the anemic nature of the 5.45x18mm. The cartridge is very weak, with 128 Joules of muzzle energy (for comparison, 9mm Parabellum puts out 481 Joules, more than three times that amount). To its credit, the 5.45x18 can effectively pierce soft body armor, something the standard issue 9x18mm Makarov cartridge cannot do. However, the earlier standard issue 7.62x25mm Tokarev can also penetrate soft body armor—while imparting more energy on the target after penetration. The machine pistol features of the OTs-23 could be an attempt to make up for the weak nature of the cartridge. Part of the pistol’s design philosophy was to use its insanely high rate of fire (up to 1800 rpm) to land hits in close proximity to each other in order to achieve greater stopping power. In the end, the OTs-23 delivered poor results, was not adopted for service and was produced in very limited numbers.
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The M1895 Nagant Revolver
While the Nagant revolver was not terrible when it was first adopted—it was on par with the Austrian Rast und Gasser M1898 and other European gate loading designs—it remained in the primary sidearm of the Russian and Soviet army until the 1930s, when it was supplemented by the Tokarev. During that time, it became thoroughly outclassed by newer generations of revolvers and pistols, which fired more powerful cartridges and could be loaded much faster. Even the British Webley Mk. VI and French M1892 Lebel—the Nagant’s contemporaries in World War II—used swing-out or top-break cylinders, which could be reloaded much faster than the Nagant’s Abadie gate loading method. The worst aspect of the Nagant, as anyone who shot one can probably tell you, is the extremely heavy trigger pull. Taking a hefty twenty pounds of pressure to fire the revolver in single or double action mode, the Nagant’s trigger pull is probably the worst of any gun on this list. Despite its flaws, the Nagant’s robust design could take a beating, and served in almost every major conflict of the twentieth century. It could even be suppressed, a rarity among revolvers.
The P-96 was one of Russia’s first attempts to create a “Glock-alike” pistol. Similar to the Glock, it lacked any external safety, instead featuring a protrusion on the trigger that must be depressed to safely fire the pistol. It also featured a polymer frame and was chambered in 9x19mm Parabellum. Interestingly, it used a rotary locking system for the barrel, with lugs that rotated thirty degrees to lock the action shut before firing. It was submitted to military trials, but came back unsuccessful. The P-96S is an adoption of the original design for the 9x17mm (.380 ACP) cartridge, so that it could be marketed to private security firms. The rotary locking action was retained for the weaker cartridge, which added complexity to the design. The technical and shooting characteristics were found to be inferior to 9x17mm chambered versions of the Makarov, so the P-96S was a commercial bust and ended production in the late 1990s. The rotary locking design of the original P-96 would continue on to become the GSh-18, an advanced pistol that has seen limited adoption with special units.
The Arsenal Strike One
The Arsenal is one of Russia’s newest pistols. Its a polymer frame and technical aspects allow the shooter to rapidly place shots on target. It has a very low bore axis and a locking system that avoids the Browning tilting barrel locking system in favor of one that moves straight back— improving accuracy. The pistol is apparently flawed in some aspects. Users, both hobbyists and professionals, have reported reliability issues such as light primer strikes and failures to eject. The stock trigger of the Strike One is reported to be inferior to striker fired pistols like the Walther PPQ, H&K VP9 or SIG P320. This opinion is parroted by other publications, describing the Arsenal’s trigger as “having a lot of grit” or “being mushy.” At one point, the Strike One was rumored to have been elite Russian police units’ pistol of choice. It now appears that the new Kalashnikov Concern PL-14 Lebedev is being considered for elite police units, since it is a more sleek and traditional design. While the Strike One is not the worst pistol to shoot on this list, it represents a unfortunate failure to follow up on a decent design.
The PYa/MP-443 “Grach”
Ever since its adoption as the new primary sidearm of the Russian army and Interior Ministry in 2003, the PYa has found itself plagued with numerous problems. Some of these are due to the design of the pistol—for example, some users complain that the grip is unergonomic, too large and too angular. The wide front sight, while aiding in rapid target acquisition, has lead to complaints of subpar accuracy. The PYa’s most pressing issue is the frequency of jams and misfeeds. While inconsistent quality control may result in some pistols performing worse than others, jams and misfeeds are a consistent complaint. A Russian special operator has expressed doubt that the PYa could have passed Soviet military standards, due to failures to fire and load, poor ergonomics and other issues. There is even a video of a PYa struggling to make it through a magazine, posted in 2015. The final strike against the PYa is the guaranteed round count of the PYa—only 4000 rounds of ammunition. This is far inferior to any adopted NATO pistol. While the PYa may have overcome some of its reliability issues (this source states that the 2008 production lot had major issues and later ones were fine), the questionable ergonomics and the limited guaranteed round count make it a poor pistol, albeit an improvement over the Makarov.
Charlie Gao studied political and computer science at Grinnell College and is a frequent commentator on defense and national-security issues.
This piece first appeared in April 2018 and is being republished due to reader interest.