Why do military toys have such a prominent position in every Russian memorabilia collection? Simply, it is because the military was a huge part of Russian life during the twentieth century. The Soviet military was not just a defense department, but a symbol of the strength and power of communism. Military strength was held up as a communist ideal, which can be seen in the government’s names for the military: “The Red Army” and “Army of Workers and Peasants.” Red was a popular color throughout the Communist regime because it symbolized the blood that was shed in the struggle against capitalism.
The Soviet military became a force outside its own borders when it captured Berlin in World War II, delivering a death blow to the Nazis. Suddenly, the symbols and weapons unique to the Soviet defense became objects of fascination throughout the rest of the world. Almost overnight, the Soviet Union emerged as a formidable and even frightening world power.
From the 1940’s through its collapse, the Soviet military was the largest in the world. By the 1970’s, it was the only country that boasted military strength rivaling that of the United States. This supremacy was due to two key factors: the Soviet Red Army soldiers and the superior weapons and military technology made available by the Soviet war machine.
The Soviet Army was able to maintain its size due to conscription. For many decades, every young man and many young women in the Soviet Union served at least two to three years in the military. In an empire so far-reaching, this was an impressive force. The soldiers were trained in military maneuvers and strategies as well as Soviet political philosophy.
The other strength of the Soviet military came from their weapons and military equipment. While many Americans are most familiar with the Soviet nuclear program, advances were made in almost every class of weapons. This came at a cost. During the 1980’s, 70% of the Soviet Union’s annual budget and 14% of the gross domestic product was spent on the military. However, this investment yielded some of the most impressive weapons in world history, including:
The AK-47/Kalashnikov rifle. Weapons experts estimate that more AK-47 rifles have been produced since its introduction in the late forties than all other assault rifles combined. This is a true assault weapon, with no use except taking human life. Durable, cheap, and easy to use, the AK-47 is all muscle and no mercy.
The MiG Fighter Jet. This is the best known of a huge collection of Soviet jets. Perhaps best known for its role in the American movie Top Gun, the MiG-29 is considered on par with top of the line American fighter jets such as the F-16.
Soviet Military Helicopters. Although the Soviet military had a late start in helicopter manufacturing, they quickly became second only to the United States in helicopter technology. Russians currently design and supply military and civilian helicopters to nations around the globe.
Soviet Missiles. Unlike the United States military, the Soviet Union maintained a branch of the military devoted entirely to missiles and rocketry, the Strategic Rocket Forces. This has yielded some of the most advanced rockets in the world, including the famous Katyusha Rocket of WWII and the SS-9 “Satan” that gained infamy during the Cold War for its potential as a weapon of first strike.
The fame and high quality of Soviet weapons, as well as their notable roles in battles that changed the course of world history, have made the Russian models and toys that resemble them a valued collector’s item for vintage toy collectors, war memorabilia collectors, and lovers of Russian culture. Unfortunately, the demand for these pieces of history is far greater than the supply of authentic Russian military toys.
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