MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin fired his powerful defense chief over a corruption scandal Tuesday, but a heady mix of sex, power struggles and military vendettas dominated talk in Russia about what was really behind the downfall of the man who has overseen the nation’s most radical defense reform in decades.
The dismissal of Anatoly Serdyukov was a surprise because the burly politician was widely regarded as having the president’s blessing for a military modernization that has won the enmity of generals and arms makers with connections to members of Putin’s inner circle.
Adding intrigue was the fact that Serdyukov is married to the daughter of one of Putin’s close allies, a former prime minister who wields enormous influence as chairman of state-run natural gas giant Gazprom. Media reports suggest that Serdyukov’s alleged philandering angered Viktor Zubkov and may have been a factor in the sacking.
But most experts see a behind-the-scenes power struggle at the root of Putin’s decision.
Serdyukov has masterminded a campaign to drastically cut the ranks of officers and overhaul an antiquated military structure to create a leaner, meaner force that might restore Russia’s faded military glory.
In particular, he has aggressively demanded higher quality and cheaper prices from the military industry — ruffling powerful business interests.
Putin made the announcement in a meeting with Moscow regional governor Sergei Shoigu, whom he appointed as the new minister. Some observers predict that Shoigu may take a less radical approach to military reform.
While giving few details, the president linked the move to a probe announced by the country’s top investigative agency last month into the sale of military assets, including real estate. The Investigative Committee says the state suffered damages of $95 million in just a few cases reviewed.