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The AK-47 takes aim at an image overhaul

Stung by Western sanctions and the rise of cheap imitators, the maker of the famous AK-47 gun is getting a broad -- and slightly cuddly -- image overhaul.

Now, the company behind the Kalashnikov gun is describing it as a weapon of peace. Nevermind that the AK-47 was a favorite of Osama bin Laden. Or that experts have described it as the tool of "the guerilla, the terrorist, the child soldier, the dictator and the thug."

In a slightly Orwellian spin, Kalashnikov says its new catchphrase is "protecting peace." The company says it makes its weapons to "maintain peace around the world" and that the weapons help countries protect their right for peaceful existence.

Kalashnikov also unveiled a red-and-black logo in the shape of a K. The logo pays tribute to what the company says is the most universally recognized design feature of the AK gun: the clip. The logo will appear on all Kalashnikov rifles from now on.

The company is hoping to rejuvenate its business even as the economy of its home country crumbles. Russia is on the precipice of a recession, buckling under U.S. and European sanctions, a declining ruble and the plummeting price of oil. Russia's Economic Development Ministry is now forecasting that the economy will contract by 0.8 percent next year.

The sanctions -- a response to Russia's military intervention in Ukraine -- have banned the import of Kalashnikov rifles into the U.S., and while that initially sparked a buying surge this year in American gun stores, the company is facing a perilous drop in sales revenue.

The sanctions have frozen a major contract to ship as many as 200,000 guns a year to the U.S. and Canada, said Kalashnikov CEO Alexei Krivoruchko. So far in 2014, the company has sold 140,000 guns. "The U.S. market was very important for us," Krivoruchko told reporters at the launch party for the new Kalashnikov.

The Moscow party was a splashy affair, with girls in tight dresses walking around holding AK-47 ammunition clips and an orchestra playing patriotic Russian songs.

With the U.S., Canada and much of Europe out of play, Kalashnikov now plans to focus on selling to countries in Asia, Africa and South America. The company, which also makes the Baikal line of hunting guns and the Izhmash line of competitive shooting rifles, is aiming to quadruple sales and become the most popular weapons maker in the world by 2020.

Kalashnikov officials said they hope the brand will eventually become as recognized and as valuable as Apple (AAPL). "A brand is a considerable asset for any leading company, although we have a long way to go to Apple's $100 billion brand," one executive told reporters at the event.

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