MOSCOW

- Mikhail Kalashnikov started out wanting to make farm equipment, but the harvest he reaped was one of blood as the designer of the AK-47 assault rifle, the world's most popular firearm.

It was the carnage of World War II, when Nazi Germany overran much of the Soviet Union, which altered his course and made his name as well-known for bloodshed as Smith, Wesson and Colt. The distinctive shape of the gun, often called "a Kalashnikov," appeared on revolutionary flags and adorns memorabilia.

Kalashnikov died Monday at age 94 in a hospital in Izhevsk, the capital of the Udmurtia republic where he lived, said Viktor Chulkov, a spokesman for the republic's president. He did not give a cause of death. Kalashnikov had been hospitalized for the past month with unspecified health problems.

Kalashnikov often said he felt personally untroubled by his contribution to bloodshed.

"I sleep well. It's the politicians who are to blame for failing to come to an agreement and resorting to violence," he told the Associated Press in 2007.

The AK-47 - "Avtomat Kalashnikov" and the year it went into production - is the world's most popular firearm, favored by guerrillas, terrorists and the soldiers of many armies. An estimated 100 million guns are spread worldwide.

Though it isn't especially accurate, its ruggedness and simplicity are exemplary: It performs in sandy or wet conditions that jam more sophisticated weapons such as the U.S. M-16.

The weapon's suitability for jungle and desert fighting made it nearly ideal for the Third World insurgents backed by the Soviet Union, and Moscow not only distributed the AK-47 widely but also licensed its production in some 30 other countries.

Kalashnikov, born into a peasant family in Siberia, began his working life as a railroad clerk. After he joined the Red Army in 1938, he began to show mechanical flair by inventing several modifications for Soviet tanks.

The moment that firmly set his course was in the 1941 battle of Bryansk against Nazi forces, when a shell hit his tank. Recovering from wounds in the hospital, he brooded about the superior rifles he'd seen the Nazis deploy; his ideas and revisions bore fruit five years later.

"Blame the Nazi Germans for making me become a gun designer," Kalashnikov said.