Anatoly Serdyukov has been sacked as Russia’s defense minister, amid allegations of corruption at a state-controlled firm.
President Vladimir Putin announced the decision on television this morning, saying that he wished to ensure an “objective investigation” into suspected wrongdoing,Reuters reported.
Serdyukov has already been replaced by Sergei Shoigu, whom RIA Novosti describes as a senior army general, the former emergencies minister and a popular public figure.
The scandal centers on what the New York Times calls “one of the highest-level corruption cases in recent memory”: the allegations that a Defense Ministry holding company, Oboronservis, sold off valuable ministry-owned real estate for nearly $100 million less than its market value.
Russian investigators have already opened five criminal cases in connection with the affair and say that Serdyukov himself may face questioning, according to RIA Novosti.
Serdyukov was Russia’s first civilian defense minister and, according to a recent profile in the Washington Post, made himself unpopular with the military by implementing drastic cuts and reforms in the armed forces, and rooting out corruption within the officer corps.
That was exactly what Putin had ordered him to do – and the New York Times notes, the president is usually very reluctant to get rid of such close allies. With that in mind, some observers are speculating that Serdyukov’s dismissal could be down to powerful personal enemies he has made among Russia’s political elite.
Shoigu, too, is known as a longtime Putin loyalist. Putin has already announced that the new minister will continue the program of military reform, Reuters reports.