The history of Russian sniper rifles began during the early 1930s. 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, and then modified to accept scopes.
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Shortly before World War II, the Red Army adopted the Tokarev SVT-40 semi-automatic rifle as its new standard weapon. 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. 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. This was 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.
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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 list of Russian sniper rifles that made the cut.
The ZiD plant in Kovrov developed the large-caliber ASVK rifle. It’s now in use with special elements of the Russian Army and law enforcement. Originally developed mostly as an anti-materiel rifle (to be used with AP and API ammo produced for heavy machine guns), it also became a long-range anti-personnel tool with the introduction of sniper-grade 12.7x108mm ammunition. With sniper-grade ammunition, the ASVK’s maximum effective range is about 1,500 meters. The ASVK is a manually operated bolt-action rifle in a bullpup configuration.
Due to the rear placement of the bolt, its operating handle is placed well forward, in front of the trigger, and connected to the bolt with a long bar. The ASVK’s detachable box magazine holds five rounds in a single stack. To reduce recoil, the free-floating barrel is equipped with a massive muzzle brake. The rifle is normally issued with a variable-power scope. Iron sights on folding bases are provided as a backup option.
The Dragunov SVD was the first purposely built Soviet sniper rifle. Adopted in 1969, it was issued to the marksman of every infantry squad of the Soviet army. Extremely rugged and durable, the SVD offered “minute of enemy soldier” accuracy at ranges up to 800 meters. The SVD was compatible with sniper-grade ammunition and all types of machine gun ammo in its 7.62x54R chambering, including AP and API. Oddly enough, since its user was expected to operate within the structure of a standard infantry squad, the SVD, most unusual for a sniper rifle, was equipped with a bayonet lug. The SVD was built using a short-stroke gas piston operating system with a locking rotary bolt.
The wooden stocks featured a characteristic thumbhole, and the rifle included a separate forend. Current-production versions are manufactured with improved polymer stocks. Special SVD-S versions, produced for airborne troops, feature shorter barrels and side-folding stocks. The standard-issue sight is a 4X PSO-1 scope with a range-finding reticle and a built-in IR detector.
For WWII, the Russian Army modified Mosin M1891/30 infantry rifles for sniper duty by adding a scope mount, attached to the left side of the receiver. Due to the placement of the scope, clip loading was impossible. The rifle had to be loaded by pushing loose rounds into the opened action. The rifle’s action used a conventional rotary bolt with two locking lugs at the front. The bolt handle was bent down to clear the scope on opening. Standard iron sights were retained, and these rifles were usually sighted-in and zeroed without the bayonet. (Standard-issue M1891/30 rifles were normally zeroed with their bayonets attached.) The integral magazine held five rounds of ammunition in a single stack.
The sniper variants retained their standard-issue wooden stocks as well as their canvas slings. Early versions were issued with 4X PE scopes that were designed during the early 1930s. Beginning in 1942, M1891/30 sniper files were issued with shorter and lighter 3.5X PU scopes. Some M1891/30 sniper rifles were issued with detachable “Bramit” sound suppressors. These were used in conjunction with reduced-velocity (subsonic) rounds to quietly take out sentries, guard dogs, and other targets of opportunity.
In 1997, the Central Design Bureau for Sporting and Hunting Arms (TsKIB SOO) developed the MTs-116M sniper rifle for law enforcement use. It was derived from the highly successful single-shot MTs-116 “high-power match” rifle. It was used by Russian shooting teams to win many international shooting matches at 100- and 300-meter ranges. The MTs-116M sniper rifle is a manually operated bolt-action rifle with a locking rotary bolt.
The bolt has two radial lugs at the front. The free-floating barrel has a heavy profile and is fitted with a flash suppressor. The rifle feeds from proprietary, five- or 10-round detachable box magazines. The trigger unit is fully adjustable. The stock is made from wood and is provided with an adjustable buttplate and cheekrest as well as a rear support monopod. An adjustable folding bipod is attached below the forend. The MTs-116M sniper rifle is normally fitted with a scope or IR/night sight using proprietary QD mounts. No iron sights are provided in its basic configuration.
The SV-98 is a manually operated bolt-action rifle. It uses a rotary bolt with three frontal lugs and a heavy barrel with a removable flash suppressor. The suppressor can be replaced with a specially designed sound suppressor if required. Quite unusual for a modern military rifle, it has a painted, laminated-wood stock instead of one made of modern synthetics. The stock also has a thumbhole as well as an adjustable buttplate and cheekrest.
The rifle is equipped with backup iron sights and a scope rail above the receiver. The standard-issue sight is the 7X PKS-7 scope, but in service many operators prefer to use higher-quality, variable-power scopes of various makes and models. The rifle is fed using proprietary, 10-round, detachable magazines made from plastic. It is normally issued with a sling, a detachable bipod, an anti-mirage band and a detachable carrying handle.
Last on this list of Russian sniper rifles is the SVT-40. Like the M1891/30, Tokarev SVT-40 sniper rifles were built from standard-issue rifles, hand-picked and modified for scope mounts on the receiver. These mounts accepted quickly-detachable 3.5X PU riflescopes that were originally designed specifically for use on these Tokarev SVT-40 rifles. The Tokarev SVT-40 utiilzed a gas-operated action with a short-stroke gas piston and a manual gas regulator located above the barrel. The prominent muzzle brake helped decrease the recoil and muzzle rise for faster follow-up shots.
The SVT-40 rifle was fitted with a wooden stock and detachable 10-round magazines. In-service magazines were often refilled “in-place” using standard-issue, five-round M1891/30 stripper clips (two per magazine). It must be noted that in wartime service the SVT-40 turned out to be problematic. This was due to much higher requirements for manufacture, maintenance, and handling (especially under adverse conditions), compared to Mosin bolt-action rifles. The accuracy of SVT-40s was also rather uninspiring. As a result, relatively few SVT-40 rifles were actually issued as sniper weapons.