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The history of Russian sniper rifles began during the early 1930s, when, following new Soviet doctrine, the Red Army initiated a countrywide program to promote individual marksmanship to youth and active-duty infantrymen. Among other activities, this program included the development of a new sniper rifle and the establishment of sniping schools, where tactics and marksmanship were taught to soldiers. The rifle choice was simple; the necessary number of newly produced Mosin M1891/30 bolt actions were hand picked for accuracy each year, then modified to accept scopes.

Shortly before World War II, the Red Army adopted the Tokarev SVT-40 semi-automatic rifle as its new standard weapon, and appropriate modifications were designed for the SVT-40 to be used as a sniper rifle with a newly developed 4X PU scope. When the “Great Patriotic War” broke out in 1941, the Red Army was still in the process of rearming its troops. As a result of frontline experience, Red Army command quickly recognized the great value of sniping, and sniper schools turned out a significant number of snipers. Throughout the war, their primary weapons were old, tried-and-true M1891/30 rifles with scopes, because it was found that the SVT-40 lacked the necessary accuracy. However, some famous Soviet snipers of the WWII era preferred the potentially less accurate Tokarev semi-auto rifle to the bolt-action Mosin rifle because the former offered a rapid second-hit capability and was generally superior at short and medium ranges.

The semi-auto Dragunov SVD entered service in 1969. According to modern Western standards, the SVD is more of a “marksman” rather than a true “sniper” rifle. It was designed to provide every infantry squad a weapon with longer reach, equivalent in range to standard-issue NATO rifles of the period. Issued with a 4X PSO-1 scope or a variety of night sights, the SVD is still a popular sniper rifle for Russian personnel.

Despite its merits, the SVD falls short in terms of single-shot accuracy compared to most Western sniper rifles. As a result, during the late 1990s, the Russian Army and police sought new sniper rifles that fired the same 7.62x54R ammunition but were capable of better accuracy. Two new rifles emerged: The SV-98 rifle, designed in Izhevsk, was based on the “Record CISM” target rifle; and the MTs-116M, designed in Tula, was based on the MTs-116 sporting rifle. Of the two, the SV-98 found wider acceptance, being used by both Russian military and police personnel. The MTs-116M rifle is mostly used in law enforcement.

Finally, Russian designers developed the 12.7mm manually operated bolt-action ASVK rifle. It is issued to special elements of the Russian Army and police, along with specially manufactured 12.7x108mm sniper ammunition for long-range work or standard-issue AP ammunition for anti-materiel work.

Check out the photo gallery above to learn more about each individual weapon system.

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