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With shake-up at defense ministry, ‘Putin’s chef’ gets his wish from beyond the grave


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CNN

The dismissal of a long-serving defense minister is nothing out of the ordinary. However, the arrest of five of his senior staff is clearly more than just a search for fresh blood – especially in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

After the shock ousting two weeks ago of Sergei Shoigu from his post as Defense Minister, a wave of arrests has gutted the top brass of the Defense Ministry, under the cover of an anti-corruption campaign.

The timing is as intriguing as the arrests and shakeups. After almost three years of failure on the battlefields of Ukraine, Russia has just regained the upper hand. In recent weeks, it has launched a largely successful offensive in the north, towards Kharkiv, coupled with victories in the Donbass region, also to the east.

Ukraine’s dire manpower shortage and dwindling munitions reserves — exacerbated by months of deadlock in the U.S. Congress to approve a military support program — have also helped turn Russia’s fortunes around.

So the question is: why upset the ministry charged with winning the war now?

Analysts interviewed by CNN described the Defense Department as one of the most corrupt in the country. Russian state media leaked sky-high military contracts and publicly humiliated senior ministry officials and their lavish lifestyles. But as one analyst told CNN, we are witnessing a “very complex polycentric game,” linked to timing and Putin’s existential quest for victory against the West.

Reuters

People gather near the grave of Russian mercenary leader Eugene Prigozhin at the Porokhovskoye cemetery in St. Petersburg, Russia, August 30, 2023.

Looming above this upheaval is the ghost of Yevgeny Prigozhin, boss of the Wagner mercenary group, once nicknamed “Putin’s boss.”

Before his death, he had expressed his hatred towards Shoigu and the Russian general Valery Gerasimov, through profanity-laden tirades, accusing them and the ministry of corruption and incompetence.

Prigozhin led a mutiny in Moscow that was to end in the overthrow of Shoigu and Gerasimov. Instead, he put the president in an awkward position and challenged his authority. Putin responded by calling Prigozhin a traitor and stripped him of his assets, before dying in a suspicious plane crash, alongside his top advisers.

Since then, Putin has kept the ministry’s inefficiencies in arms procurement, as well as its mistakes in invading Ukraine and its allegations of corruption, out of the public eye, eager to show that he would not react not instinctively following the mutiny. This could call into question his authority and strength among the Russian people.

Putin was likely awaiting re-election by the Russian people in March before taking on the Defense Ministry. The changes came shortly after Victory Day celebrations on May 9, which Putin and Shoigu attended side by side in a seemingly friendly appearance.

Despite his dismissal as defense minister, Shoigu will remain in Putin’s orbit after being moved to the new role of Security Council secretary.

Alexander Kazakov/AFP/Getty Images

In this photograph distributed by Russian state agency Sputnik, Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin takes the oath of office during a ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow on May 7, 2024.

Tatiyana Stanovaya, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, told CNN that it doesn’t matter whether Prigozhin was right about official corruption. In Russia, she said, “right and wrong don’t exist in politics – only interests matter.”

Putin’s interest is in maintaining order at home but, more importantly, in achieving victory in Ukraine. The Department of Defense plays a central role in how this war ends.

By appointing a civilian economist, Andrey Belousov, as defense minister, Putin signaled that he wanted the ministry, with its vast budget, to procure weapons more quickly and more economically.

Russia’s 2024 budget shows the country seeks to spend 6% of its GDP on defense, the highest figure in modern Russian history, and will exceed social spending – a sign of the country’s transition towards a war economy.

Corruption in question – Shamarin and Ivanov

Mikhail Komin, a Russian political scientist and visiting fellow at the Vienna-based European Foreign Affairs Council, told CNN that “Shoigu’s group, among Russian elites, is one of the most rent-seeking.” More than some people close to Putin, for example.”

Last Friday, Lieutenant General Vadim Shamarin, head of the General Directorate of Communications of the Russian Armed Forces, was accused of “receiving a bribe on a particularly large scale” of 36 million rubles (about 393 000 dollars) from a factory that supplies the ministry with communications equipment. In exchange, he allegedly awarded the company lucrative government contracts.

Russian Defense Ministry/Reuters

Lieutenant General Vadim Shamarin, Deputy Chief of the Army General Staff, is seen in this image on October 6, 2023. Russian Defense Ministry.

Shamarin has pleaded not guilty, according to Russian state media.

Russian state media also played a role in reporting the Kremlin’s crackdown on the ministry. After Shamarin’s arrest in May, state bureau Ria Novosti reported that his wife bought a Mercedez-Benz GLE in 2018 for 20 million rubles (about $218,000) at a time when her income did not exceed $34,000. A separate report reveals that his income that year was 872,000 rubles ($9,740).

The best known of the five arrested officials was Timur Ivanov, deputy defense minister. He was placed under house arrest at the end of April, also suspected of having accepted bribes.

Ivanov had become a target of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, founded by Alexei Navalny, who was killed in a Russian prison in February. He and his organization exposed the lavish lifestyle of Ivanov’s partner – visiting jewelers by invitation only, wearing high fashion clothes and owning a chalet in the chic ski resort of Courchevel in France. They wondered how she could afford such a lifestyle when her husband’s salary was officially $175,000 a year.

Russian state media reported that Ivanov maintains his innocence, citing his own source.

Tourar Kazangapov/Reuters

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu attends a meeting of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) defense ministers in Astana, Kazakhstan, April 26, 2024.

There can be no overlap, but corruption will persist

For Stanovaya, the reasons for replacing figures like Ivanov and Shamarin are simple. “Part of Putin’s logic is that you cannot recruit someone to this position (as defense minister) where the interests of the previous one are important.”

To help clean up the ministry, Putin appointed Oleg Savelyev, a former auditor at Russia’s Accounts Chamber, as deputy defense minister. He will be “aware of the corruption that already exists in the defense sector,” Komin said.

Faced with the radical changes made by the president, rumors are circulating about the position of the chief of staff of the armed forces, Valery Gerasimov, the other target of Prigozhin’s rants.

Stanovaya said: “There are so many rumors now that he (Gerasimov) might be fired soon”, but the fact that he has so far been spared gives Gerasimov “a window to start fighting for his own interests,” she added. “Gerasimov is fighting against his enemies, trying to secure his future,” Stanovaya said.

Komin agreed that Gerasimov could keep his job for now, since Putin has said he has no plans to make any further changes.

Above all, Komin suggested that Gerasimov’s luck might be that he lacks a position, similar to Shoigu’s, where he could be publicly sidelined without completely tarnishing his reputation, “it’s no big deal to find the new guy . It’s more of a big deal to find the previous guy’s spot.

In Putin’s Russia, the president remains focused on his victory in Ukraine, but recent overtures have shown that the supporting cast could be changing and the president is prepared to be ruthless in his quest for victory.

News Source : amp.cnn.com
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jack colman

With a penchant for words, jack began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class. After interning at the New York Times, jack landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim. Though writing is his passion, jack also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
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