In late 2016, the US Army released a report noting that the Russian military, through experience gained during fighting in Ukraine, was undergoing a transformation and becoming a more potent battlefield threat to American forces. One troublesome development identified by the report’s authors was the increased proficiency of Russian snipers. “The capabilities of a sniper in a Russian contingent is far more advanced than the precision shooters U.S. formations have encountered over the last 15 years,” the study noted. One reason for this was the Russian military’s recent adoption of the ORSIS T-5000, a relatively new Russian-made firearm that the report called “one of the most capable bolt action sniper rifles in the world.” As one military technology expert noted, after reviewing this report, the US Army faced “being outgunned” by foes armed with the T-5000—which can be accurate at a distance of 2,000 yards—and these Russian rifles were showing up in Iraq and Ukraine. That is, this weapon posed a threat to US troops and those of its allies. Yet the National Rifle Association—which boasts it is identified with American patriotism—has helped promote Moscow-based ORSIS and its sniper rifle.
In December 2015, as has been previously reported, the NRA sent a high-level delegation to Russia. The group included Peter Brownell, then the first vice president of the NRA; David Keene, a past president; Joe Gregory, a top NRA donor; and David Clarke, then the sheriff of Milwaukee County, who would become a top surrogate for Donald Trump. (Brownell became president of the NRA last year.) The trip was at least partially subsidized by a curious Russian gun rights organization called the Right to Bear Arms that has been associated with two Russians, Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin, who for years had been forging connections with conservative organizations and gun aficionados in the United States. (Torshin—a director of the Russian central bank, a former senator, and a close ally of Putin—has been accused of having ties to Russian organized crime, an allegation he has denied. During the 2016 campaign, Torshin and Butina tried to connect with Trump campaign officials.) The Right to Bear Arms paid $6,000 toward the cost of Clarke’s trip.
While in Russia, members of the NRA delegation met with Dmitry Rogozin, the deputy prime minister, who was sanctioned by the Obama administration the previous year in retaliation for Putin’s invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Rogozin was a hardliner who led the ultra-right party Rodina, and part of his government portfolio was of particular interest to the NRA representatives: the arms industry. When Rogozin became deputy prime minister in 2011, he was given the task of overseeing Russia’s military-industrial complex and reviving the nation’s weapons-making business through private-public partnerships. One early endeavor in this regard, according to a Russian publication called Defense and Security, involved ORSIS, a small, private company, which about this time began receiving government contracts. (For a spell, Rogozin’s son was a deputy director of the firm.)
In 2014, Pravda reported Russia, now facing sanctions blocking the sale of made-in-Russia guns to the United States and Europe, was looking to export ORSIS sniper rifles as part of its development of new markets for Russian weapons, and the Russian newspaper referred to the T-5000 as the “Rogozin rifle.” The paper noted, “Defense officials from the Philippines and Pakistan evinced interest in the so-called Rogozin rifle, advertised by Putin and [American actor] Steven Seagal. The countries offered to test sniper rifle ORSIS T-5000 on their territory. Similar proposals came from Malaysia and Indonesia.” (In 2013, ORSIS announced it would be making a sporting version of its rifle endorsed by Seagal.)
While the NRA delegation was in Moscow, it visited the ORSIS offices and facilities. The group, accompanied by Butina, watched a video extolling the T-5000, toured the company’s manufacturing plant, and observed rifles being made. Then members of the delegation test-fired ORSIS rifles at an on-site shooting range. The company presented the NRAers with swanky watches bearing the company’s logo.
The day of the ORSIS visit, Clarke posted on Twitter a photograph of himself holding an ORSIS rifle.*
Visited a Russian gun manufacturer today and test fired weapons including an Orsis T5000M sniper rifle. 338 cal. pic.twitter.com/DwAagzT6qI
— David A. Clarke, Jr. (@SheriffClarke) December 11, 2015
The NRA trip to ORSIS was of use to the Russian gunmaker. The company produced a video showing the NRA delegates oohing and aahing over the T-5000. The video was one in a series of short films promoting ORSIS and its weapons. The video was posted on YouTube four weeks after the visit.
Clarification: An earlier version of this article stated that Clarke was holding a T-5000 in the photo he tweeted out, as his tweet suggested. After this article was published, gun experts contacted Mother Jones to say that the weapon is not a T-5000, but a variant of an assault rifle. The video does show him firing a T-5000.