‘Putin’s patience snapped’: Insiders marvel at Russia’s military purge

‘putin’s patience snapped’: insiders marvel at russia’s military purge

Andrei Belousov (left) has been charged with reducing corruption within Russia’s military. Photograph: Dmitry Harichkov/Russian defence ministry Press Service/HAND/EPA

In the weeks since Vladimir Putin sacked his longtime defence minister Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s FSB security service has pursued a series of high-level corruption cases against a deputy minister and department heads in what many insiders are now calling a purge in the defence ministry.

Andrei Belousov, the technocrat economist appointed to replace Shoigu, has a mandate to reduce corruption in the defence ministry and streamline military production for a long war against Ukraine that could largely be decided by industrial output.

But former defence and Kremlin officials, ex-officers and foreign observers have said it was likely the exit of Shoigu and loss of his protection that has allowed the FSB, the Russian security department responsible for internal investigations, to take down powerful officials in a power struggle that could have knock-on effects for how Russia fights the war in Ukraine.

“The FSB finally got their teeth in the defence ministry and general staff,” said Capt John Foreman, the UK’s former defence attache to Moscow, who said he believed the arrests could continue after “Putin’s patience had finally snapped”.

“Shoigu and Gerasimov provided a buffer, but now Putin decided he had to do something,” he said. “Shoigu kept the FSB largely away from the ministry throughout his tenure, there were very few arrests. Once the FSB has their teeth in you, who knows how far they will go.”

Throughout the war in Ukraine, Shoigu and Gersasimov have come under fire from pro-war advocates for the military’s setbacks and their failure to eradicate pervasive corruption within the armed forces. Last summer, this dissatisfaction reached its peak when Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner paramilitary group, initiated an unsuccessful rebellion against the military’s leaders.

Interagency rivalries run deep in Russia, and Shoigu’s ouster may have given investigators in the FSB and investigative committee an opportunity to brush off criminal cases against the top brass in an effort to seek promotions and praise.

“It’s the dream of any investigator to put a real live deputy minister of defence in prison, it’s cool, it’s the dream of a lifetime,” said one former Kremlin official. “You get new epaulettes for that, a promotion, some kind of award. You can earn a reputation for that.”

In the case of high-level prosecutions, the official said, Putin would probably be informed before an arrest was sought. But, the official added, he said it was unlikely the corruption cases were being initiated by the Kremlin itself.

In the span of a month, four top defence officials were arrested on corruption charges, marking the most significant crackdown in the defence ministry in years. The purge began on 23 April with the shock arrest of the veteran deputy defence minister Timur Ivanov for suspected bribe-taking.

Addressing the recent series of arrests, the Kremlin on Thursday denied any suggestion of a crackdown within the defence ministry.

“The fight against corruption is consistent work,” the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday. “It is not a campaign, it is constantly ongoing work.”

Ivanov was a long-term confidant and protege of Sergei Shoigu. His detention is believed to have laid the groundwork for Shoigu’s dismissal, who was subsequently replaced as defence minister by Belousov.

In the weeks that followed, additional high-ranking officials were detained. These included Yuri Kuznetsov, the head of the ministry’s personnel department, and Vadim Shamarin, the head of the communications department of the Russian general staff. Hours after Shamarin’s arrest on Thursday, Russia’s investigative committee also reported detaining another defence ministry official – Vladimir Verteletsky, who headed a division in the state defence procurement department of the ministry.

While the Kremlin announced earlier this month that Russia’s top general, Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff, would retain his position, the arrest of Shamarin, a direct deputy of Gerasimov, could weaken the general’s standing within the military hierarchy.

“The probability of Gerasimov’s dismissal has gone up. I would sell my shares in him right now,” said Foreman.

A former defence official said the arrests showed that the balance of power had swung in favour of Russia’s security services, while its military appears in disarray.

“The FSB’s department of counterintelligence operations (1st division) is becoming increasingly powerful. They currently hold all the cards and are tightening the screws,” said the official, who worked closely with Ivanov and Shoigu.

“It is not that Belousov’s arrival led to the purges, but the departure of Shoigu and his strongmen resource that enabled the arrest,” the official continued. “Shoigu in the end was a silovik [member of the security elite] and had their backing.”

Russian prosecutors have also gone after a senior general best known for his criticism of Shoigu and Gerasimov.

Maj Gen Ivan Popov, who commanded the 58th Combined Arms force, said last summer that he had been fired after he brought up problems on the battlefield, including the lack of counter-battery fire, and deaths and injuries the army was suffering from Ukrainian attacks. Popov, who Russian media said stood accused of stealing 100m roubles (£868,569) of metal, was arrested on Tuesday and placed in a pre-detention facility.

Gleb Irisov, a former Russian air force lieutenant who left the military in 2020, said he had spoken with an FSB source before the arrests who told him that the purge in the defence ministry would be prompted mainly by its failures in Ukraine.

“Under Sergei Shoigu, the defence ministry became heavily influenced by his personal network,” said Irisov. “From senior commanders to lower staff, key positions were filled with Shoigu’s picks – friends or friends of friends. He even created numerous deputy positions specifically for his allies.”

Those have included a reported mistress of Sergei Shoigu’s who headed companies that earned millions of pounds from contracts with the defence ministry.

Irisov said he regularly discovered substandard equipment in the military, including lightbulbs that melted at supersonic speeds while flying Russia’s modern Su-35 air-defence fighter, as well as shoddy trucks and air defence systems unable to shoot down modern drones. He said in part their deficiencies were the result of corruption under Shoigu.

“The overall quality of the military suffered because funds were routinely embezzled,” he said. “Military exercises often existed only on paper, as the allocated money was siphoned off.”

OTHER NEWS

22 minutes ago

Against all odds – Olympic gold medallist Thugwane’s heroic effort lit up the nation

22 minutes ago

On Patti LaBelle’s 80th, I remember her horrific-smelling hotel room

25 minutes ago

Gareth Southgate confident goals will come for England

26 minutes ago

Kyle Sandilands shares shocking secret about pop star pal Brian McFadden… after bombshell reveal of hitmaker's 'spitting' kink with ex Delta Goodrem

26 minutes ago

Zuma slams GNU as ‘white-led unholy alliance’ as MK party decides to join Progressive Caucus

26 minutes ago

Flags, booze and booing: fans embrace doing what they love at Euro 2024

26 minutes ago

Aussie golfer blows year's biggest lead at LPGA event

27 minutes ago

Poland vs Netherlands: Preview, predictions and lineups

27 minutes ago

When is Premier League 2024/25 schedule released? Fixture announcement date and time for new EPL season

27 minutes ago

8 animals which changed the world - from Lucy the Spaniel to to Tilikum the orca

27 minutes ago

Ghana president says Africa 'greatest victim' of Russian invasion's consequences outside Europe

27 minutes ago

Three Lions open Euro 2024 campaign with narrow win against Serbia as fans celebrate

27 minutes ago

Rod Stewart ‘booed’ in Germany after showing images of Ukraine flag and president

27 minutes ago

Emmanuel Macron facing bigger wipeout than Rishi Sunak is forecast

27 minutes ago

Sunday Euro 2024 Open Thread

27 minutes ago

Palestinians gather at ruined mosque for Eid al Adha prayers

27 minutes ago

RUTH SUNDERLAND: Labour will tax middle class

27 minutes ago

Daulton Varsho's fifth-inning grand slam leads Blue Jays past Guardians 7-6

27 minutes ago

Outrage after Caitlin Clark is whacked on the head by rival Angel Reese in latest WNBA dust up

27 minutes ago

Gov. Wes Moore's message of patriotism and service could be a blueprint for Democrats in a divided US

27 minutes ago

The oldest competitor at the U.S. trials turns in the swim of a lifetime

27 minutes ago

‘Inside Out 2’ Hits $155 Million in U.S. for Year’s Biggest Opening Weekend

30 minutes ago

Queensland set to roll the dice on Reece Walsh for Origin II but two stars from the huge win in Sydney have been omitted by coach Billy Slater

32 minutes ago

Switzerland Offers Putin Safe Passage

32 minutes ago

Eriksen scores for Denmark in draw vs. Slovenia, three years after collapse on field

33 minutes ago

'A basketball play': Reese disagrees with her foul on Clark

35 minutes ago

Producer/Actor Nick Pasqual Extradited From Texas To Face Attempted Murder Charge

37 minutes ago

Video: England 1-0 Serbia: Gareth Southgate's side take the points in nervy opening game with Jude Bellingham's crashing header enough to send fans celebrating into the night

38 minutes ago

Rory McIlroy showed true colours with comment to Patrick Cantlay's caddie before US Open final round

38 minutes ago

South Africa: Today’s latest news and headlines, Sunday, 16 June

38 minutes ago

The 111-Year Record Ludvig Aberg Can Break At The US Open

38 minutes ago

Adele 'renovates her Beverly Hills mansion'

38 minutes ago

My children are my biggest achievement, says David Beckham

38 minutes ago

Katie Price 'has a fresh head and a strong mind'

38 minutes ago

Henry Cavill seeks 'parenting tips' on Father's Day

38 minutes ago

Min Woo Lee and Jason Day to represent Australia at Paris Olympics

39 minutes ago

Stock futures are little changed ahead of a holiday-shortened trading week: Live updates

42 minutes ago

Dak Prescott could ask for an incredible amount of money in new contract with Dallas Cowboys

43 minutes ago

Jude Bellingham's goal secures England a 1-0 win against Serbia at Euro 2024 after fans clash

43 minutes ago

Chris Jones is pleased with the chemistry he has had with Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce in training camps