The Washington Post

Putin fires Russian defense chief tied to corruption scandal

Governor of Moscow Region Sergei Shoigu, second from left, greets acting Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, second from right, before a session of the State Council’s Presidium at the Kremlin in Moscow Oct. 9. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

A burgeoning $100 million corruption scandal claimed Russia’s defense minister Tuesday, as President Vladimir Putin sent Anatoly Serdyukov packing. It appeared to be the first time a top government official here has been fired for graft since the era of Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev in the 1980s.

Putin’s decision to rid the government of Serdyukov, a longtime loyal functionary, rather than simply shift him to another job as he normally would, quickly launched several theories as to what was behind the move. One thing analysts agreed on was that corruption was the pretext and not the underlying reason for the firing.

“Corruption is a main instrument for solving all questions in Russia,” said Alexander Golts, a leading defense expert. “Of course there was corruption, but that was not what was behind this.”

The criminal investigation involves the sale of defense ministry property at rock-bottom prices by an agency called Oboronservis. The head of that agency, a key figure in the probe, was reported Tuesday by the Interfax news agency to have possibly fled the country.

Serdyukov will be replaced by Sergei Shoigu, one of the most popular leaders in Russia. After more than a decade as head of the ministry for emergency situations (Russia’s equivalent of FEMA), Shoigu has for the past six months been governor of the region surrounding Moscow.

Serdyukov, 50 and the onetime head of Russia’s tax service, has been carrying out a thorough reshaping of Russia’s defense forces since his appointment in 2007. He was extremely unpopular among senior officers for his cuts and his open disdain for them. Perhaps more damaging, he also is estranged from his wife, who is the daughter of Viktor Zubkov, the chairman of energy company Gazprom and one of Putin’s most trusted senior colleagues.

Igor Bunin, president of the Center for Political Technologies here, said Tuesday that Serdyukov had outlasted his usefulness and that Putin was casting him aside in a bid to regain his own standing with the military. Putin also had to demonstrate decisiveness, Bunin said, to counteract recent rumors about his health.

But Golts argued that Putin, who had met with Serdyukov last week after the scandal broke, appears to have been forced into making the move. It was, he said, due to “the intrigue” of some unknown high official. And it makes Putin look weak. “It looks like he cannot control his guys,” Golts said.

A supporter of military reform, Golts argued that Serdyukov’s enemies in the ministry would use his downfall to discredit everything that he was trying to do.



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments

Sign up for email updates from the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

You have signed up for the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

Thank you for signing up
You'll receive e-mail when new stories are published in this series.
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
What can babies teach students?
Unconventional warfare with a side of ale
A veteran finds healing on a dog sled
Play Videos
A fighter pilot helmet with 360 degrees of sky
Is fencing the answer to brain health?
Scenes from Brazil's Carajás Railway
Play Videos
How a hacker group came to Washington
The woman behind the Nats’ presidents ‘Star Wars’ makeover
How hackers can control your car from miles away
Play Videos
Philadelphia's real signature sandwich
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul
Europe's migrant crisis, explained

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.