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13 May, 2010 04:56

Tula: preserving historical traditions while embracing new technology

The medieval city of Tula in Central Russia is home to not only the country's rich legacy of arms manufacturing, but also its hub of technological innovation.

As home base to arms production during World War II, Tula was where Soviet soldiers successfully secured the Southern perimeter protecting Moscow. Decades later, it was honored as the “hero city” – a fact that keeps Tula’s present-day residents proud of its history.

Dmitry Kapitonov, Tula resident, proudly recalls his grandfather’s tenacity in joining the Soviet army during the war. Like many Tula residents, he had the status of a highly-skilled professional, which protected him from joining the forces.

He tried to go to the army twice. He had a special certificate that protected him from going, but he burned it twice,” Kapiton said. “He was moved to Siberia and produced armaments there.”

Tula’s arms legacy, which dates back to the times of Peter the Great, is something else that sets the city apart. Back in the 18th century, Peter the Great opened the country’s first armament factory in Tula.

Tula’s affinity with weaponry has manifested itself in the present day with recent technological development and practices, particularly in medicine.

Imagine being able to purge physical imperfections within minutes, with no cutting, no pain and no downtime. That is what brought Elena Nefedova to a particular Tula doctor in order to have cosmetic treatment for her face. The laser removal treatment she had did away with her concerns within fifteen minutes.

It was painless, bloodless and there is not a stitch left,” Nefyodova affirmed. “It was really great.”

The technology that allows doctors to perform laser surgery is directly tied into Tula's longest legacy of high-precision weapons.

Much of that legacy is surrounded by the walls of Tula’s Kremlin, where one can find the Bogoyavlensky Cathedral. Built as a memorial to the soldiers of the Patriotic War of 1812, it is now a museum showcasing antique and modern weaponry. Outside the Kremlin's walls, Tula's legacy is on display through its people.

Mikhail Kazakov is among the owners of businesses producing miniature weapons and creating elaborate hand-carved inlays for shoguns and rifles – a tradition that began in Tula in 1748.

Very few people in Russia and abroad actually do what we do with arms,” said Kazakov. “It is a nice feeling to realize that you have implemented your idea and that someone still needs it.”

However, since the collapse of the Soviet Union the entire arms industry has been in decline with fewer civilian and military orders.

“It is quite hard in Tula, because it is a challenging business and there is not much support,” said Yuliana Shabanova, director of an arms manufacturing company. “And we have very few craftsmen remaining. We have to find apprentices for the old masters and employ the latter to train the younger generation.”

Manufacturers have attempted to broaden their client base by linking weaponry to other industries. For example, KBP, Russia's leading military supplier, is transferring gun technology to the medical field by producing surgical lasers through a subsidiary. So, people like Elena Nefyodova will be able to benefit as Tula's central industry keeps the arms tradition alive, all the while embarking on new ones.