Military shake-up in Russia adds luster to Putin

MOSCOW, Nov. 10 (Xinhua) — Russia’s top military leadership has undergone a dramatic shake-up recently with both the defense minister and the chief of General Staff being removed.

President Vladimir Putin fired Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov on Tuesday over a corruption scandal, replacing him with former Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu. Three days later, the president dismissed army chief Nikolai Makarov.

The ministerial replacement stems from the corruption scandal in the Oboronservice company, in which the former defense minister had served as board chairman until 2011.

According to the Russian Investigative Committee, the state-controlled company embezzled around 3 billion rubles (95 million U.S. dollars) of national defense budget and investigators were also probing Oboronservice as part of a criminal inquiry into public assets fraud.

In order to “create conditions for an objective investigation of all the issues,” Putin decided to replace Serdyukov, a move which was well received in both the political arena and by the public.

The 50-year-old Serdyukov had been Defense Minister since February 2007. He launched military reforms, which included reorganizing the army and cutting the number of officers.

Meanwhile, Serdyukov replaced some military officials with civilians who had worked with him when he headed the tax ministry. This action triggered discontent among the military and political circles.

Speculation he would fall from grace had circulated for years, but he had received Putin’s staunch backing.

However, this time the president moved to replace him without hesitation because people had started to question the country’s national defense budget following the scandal.

Analysts said the reshuffle in the military ensured a smooth process of reforms, complied with people’s aspirations and added luster to Putin’s political achievements.

The Russian military was crying out for achievements in the armed forces, implementation of state defense orders and ongoing modernization, Putin said. Therefore he appointed Shoigu, who is considered a great strategist or a powerful military officer, to the post.

In August, the Russian president said the military-industrial complex was stimulating the development of other sectors. Meanwhile, he acknowledged that, in the past 30 years, Russia’s military industry had missed several modern cycles due to inadequate funding. Only proper reforms could make up for the lost opportunities.

Serdyukov’s dismissal also demonstrated the government’s determination to combat corruption, which has long disturbed social development.

Yevgeny Primakov, former Russian prime minister, said sacking Serdyukov was not a simple change of personnel, but the start of purification of the authorities in the country.

In addition, the reshuffle would help Putin restore his reputation, said Igor Bunin, president of the Center for Political Technologies.

Bunin said, according to an opinion poll, Putin had seen a declining approval rating compared with his two previous presidencies. “Decisively removing tainted officials shows Putin’s attitude towards corruption. To cut the Gordian knot will earn more reputation for the president in the army and among the people,” he said.