Yugoslav AKs, Part 4. Collapse of Yugoslavia

Vladimir Onokoy
by Vladimir Onokoy

In Part 1 of this article, I talked about the first prototypes of Yugoslav AKs, in Part 2 we dived into the history of M70 rifles with milled receivers, Part 3 was dedicated to the most common Zastava M70s and this chapter will go over Zastava AKs developed during the collapse of Yugoslavia.

AK History @ TFB:

After the death of Tito in 1980, the economic problems in Yugoslavia were becoming more evident. Loans previously taken by the communist government had to be paid and inflation was rising rapidly. Yugoslavian arms industry now had to increase the exports to survive. They did it pretty well: the country built a large arms factory in Iraq and exported weapons to Lebanon, Kuwait, Emirates, Angola, Zambia, and a few other countries.

To boost export sales, Zastava created an entire family of Yugoslav AKs chambered for 5.56×45, which were first revealed to the public in 1985 at the expo in Belgrade. Later on, those designs were used as the foundation for the M21 rifle which I wrote about before.

M21 – one of the current production Zastava AKs used by the army of Serbia

By the early 90s, the country began to collapse. Republics that formed Yugoslavia, acting like a bunch of irritated family members, started declaring that “I will be better off alone”. Some republics left Yugoslavia without a fight, like Macedonia, and others gained independence after years of war with numerous war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide.

How did a peaceful country manage to become a warzone in mere days? The answer lies in the structure of the Yugoslav army. During WW2, it was the only country that basically liberated itself from the Nazis (with some outside help). So the concept of partisans and militias was a part of national defense.

Reservists were trained in advance, and hundreds of thousands of rifles were in storage in case an invasion came. But the enemy came from within. Every army of a newly-independent part of the country relied on existing recruitment systems and arsenals. People were drafted based on an established mobilization system – not to repel the invasion, but to fight with their neighbors, friends, and relatives.

M70AB2 in the War Museum 1992 in Sarajevo, Bosnia

This war once again revived the phenomenon of “trench art” when soldiers from different sides of the conflict carved their names into the stocks and handguards, put stickers on rifles, and even burned pictures on wood. Sometimes it was silly, sometimes it was real art: portraits, quotes from books and poetry.

After the war, a lot of those guns spread around the world. In Afghanistan, I had plenty of Yugoslav AKs with names carved in them.

Many security contractors in Kabul were from Bosnia and Herzegovina, veterans of Yugoslav wars. I had so many guns with names carved in them, that if I tried, I could give every other contractor a gun that had his exact name carved into wooden parts.

Many Yugoslav AKs had names or symbols carved on them. This M70AB1 carried the name of its former owner all the way to Afghanistan.

But despite the war and crisis, weapon development at the Zastava factory did not stop. In 1992, the factory started production of the M92, a short-barrel AK rifle resembling the Soviet AKS 74U. It is based on the Zastava M85 chambered in 5.56×45.

The same year when M92 went into production, Yugoslavia was sanctioned and the export of armaments nearly stopped. Only after the election of 2000, when President Milosević was voted out of office and sent to the Hague tribunal, exports of Yugoslav AKs continued.

M92 was exported to multiple countries, including the US, where this rifle is known as ZPAP92. I was first introduced to this gun in Afghanistan. Those Yugoslav AKs were in really high demand for two reasons.

M92 with unfolded stock

First, the M92s were the newest AK rifles we had. Afghanistan, besides other things, is like a giant open-air Kalashnikov museum. But most of the stuff you see there is quite old, and getting brand-new guns is tricky. M92s were given to the “more important” contractors.

For example, in an embassy, you would have three different units protecting the facility. The first line of defense was the Afghans outside the main compound who used various old AKs. The second line of defense is Gurkha contractors from Nepal and India that used M92s. The last line of defense was the contractors from the country the embassy represented. They generally used some AR-variants, since that is what they had back in the military days.

The second reason the M92 was popular is the size. In some remote regions, walking around with a rifle is asking for trouble. But the M92 fits in a backpack, and you can walk around with it without attracting too much attention. That is why many security units who worked in provinces outside of Kabul always asked me to get them M92.

With the folding stock, the M92 easily fits in a backpack

In the next part of the article, I will talk about my experience with modern Serbian AKs that I encountered in Somalia and Pakistan.

Vladimir Onokoy
Vladimir Onokoy

Vladimir Onokoy is a small arms subject matter expert and firearms instructor. Over the years he worked in 20 different countries as a security contractor, armorer, firearms industry sales representative, product manager, and consultant. His articles were published in the Recoil magazine, Small Arms Review, Small Arms Defence Journal, and Silah Report. He also contributed chapters to books from the "Vickers Guide: Kalashnikov" series. Email: machaksilver at gmail dot com. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Vladimir-Onokoy-articles-and-videos-about-guns-and-other-unpopular-stuff-107273143980300/ Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/vladonokoy/ YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/machaksilver

More by Vladimir Onokoy

Join the conversation
7 of 43 comments
  • MediumSizeTex MediumSizeTex on May 30, 2024

    That top photo could have been the intro image for a serious article about the sociopolitical history of Yoguslavia's collapse in any major newspaper or magazine, nice artistic work on the framing device.

    • Vlad Vlad on May 31, 2024

      @MediumSizeTex Thanks a lot! I hard time picking the photo, glad it works as intended.

      But really we need to thank war museum in Sarajevo who put together this setup

  • Ninoslav Trifunovic Ninoslav Trifunovic on May 31, 2024

    M-92 is based on M-85 (5.56 variant) which is based on Soviet AK74U. That piece of weaponry was provided to Zastava by Military Counterintelligence (KOS) which used war correspondent/playboy Miroslav Lazanski for that job... Story is that Lazanski was in Afghanistan to interview the head of Soviet military forces in that country. At the same time, he was approached by KOS to try to get at least one new soviet round (5.45mm). When Lazanski asked Soviets for one round (officially for his "collection"), they just laughed and asked him to choose between AK 74 or AK74U as gift! When he was back in Belgrade, he had certain problems with State Security Service (DB) because their rivalry with KOS, but that is another story...

    • See 3 previous
    • Ninoslav Trifunovic Ninoslav Trifunovic on May 31, 2024

      @Bojan Kavedzic I'm talking about U version not standard. But yeah, it could be a cover story. Wouldn't be the first one in murky world of international gun trade.