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Putin's Russia. Prigozhin's last wish comes true

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Several important officials of the Russian Ministry of Defense have been detained in recent weeks on corruption charges. Minister Sergei Shoigu also lost his job recently. The arrests also concern high-ranking military officials. As CNN reminds us on Sunday, Yevgeny Prigozhin, “Putin's cook”, who started a rebellion against him a year ago, called for the fight against corruption in these circles.

In mid-May, the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov unexpectedly announced that the former first deputy prime minister, Andrei Belousov will replace Sergei Shoigu as Minister of Defense, who has held this position since 2012. He became Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, and Nikolai Patrushev, who has been holding this office so far, will receive another position in the near future.

Read more: Putin's “good soldier” will be replaced by Shoigu. He faces a difficult task

As CNN points out, the removal of a long-time minister of national defense from his position is not unusual, but the arrest of a total of five of his long-time associates is clearly more than just a search for “fresh blood”, especially in Russia Vladimir Putin.

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Among other things, before Shoigu's dismissal on charges of accepting bribes one of his deputies was arrestedhis “right hand” Timur Ivanov, and two days after it, also in connection with corruption allegations another high-ranking ministry official was detainedYuri Kuznetsov.

Ivanov had already become the subject of interest of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, founded by Alexei Navalny, an oppositionist who died in February in a penal colony. He and his organization revealed the lavish lifestyle that Ivanov's partner led.

According to CNN, it is not only the arrests themselves that are intriguing, but also the timing of them. After almost three years of setbacks on the Ukrainian front, Russia has finally gained the upper hand. In recent weeks, it launched a partially successful offensive towards Kharkov, accompanied by victorious battles in Donbass. Ukraine has recently been struggling with insufficient supplies of aid from abroad, related to the several-month-long deadlock in the US Congress and problems with mobilization.

Read also: Ukraine. The most important events of the last hours

So why is Putin making changes to the ministry at such a time?

Analysts interviewed by CNN journalists described the Ministry of Defense as one of the most corrupt in the country. Russian state media has repeatedly exposed questionable military contracts entered into by the ministry, involving staggering sums of money that cast a shadow over senior ministry officials.

Message from Prigozhin

Hanging over this confusion is the ghost of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the former head of the Wagner mercenary group, known in the past as “Putin's cook,” CNN notes.

Prigozhin (left) and Putin (center), 2011Misha Japaridze/Reuters/Forum

In June 2023, Prigozhin started a rebellion against the Kremlin and set off with his mercenaries towards Moscow. His action was to end with the dismissal of Shoigu and the chief of the Russian General Staff, Valery Gerasimov. Prigozhin repeatedly accused them of corruption and incompetence. However, in response, Putin called Prigozhin a traitor and deprived him of his property. Then Prigozhin died in a plane crash along with his most important advisors.

Evgeny Prigozhin's graveANATOLY MALTSEV/EPA/PAP

Since then, Putin has hidden from the public the irregularities related to arms orders concluded by the Ministry of Defense. According to CNN, he wanted to show that he would not take the actions that Prigozhin expected of him, as it could undermine his authority and power in the eyes of citizens.

Read also: “In the long run, Russia has no way of winning this war.”

Putin probably waited to take action against the ministry's management until after the March events he organized elections presidential elections that were supposed to strengthen his power. The changes began shortly after the Victory Day celebrations on May 9, in which Putin and Shoigu participated together. Despite being removed from the post of defense minister, Shoigu will remain in Putin's close circle after being appointed secretary of the Security Council.

However, after appointing economist Andrei Belousov as the new defense minister, Putin signaled that he wanted the ministry, with its huge budget, to purchase weapons faster and more economically. Russia's 2024 budget shows it intends to spend six percent of GDP on defense, the most in the country's modern history. Military spending will exceed social spending, a sign that the country is transitioning to a war economy.

Detentions also among military personnel

Corruption-related detentions in Russia also concern high-ranking military officials.

At the end of May, the deputy chief of the general staff of the Russian army, General Vadim Shamarin, was detained on charges of corruption. Investigators accuse him of receiving a financial benefit of particularly high value, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. According to Russian state media, Shamarin pleaded not guilty.

He allegedly accepted a bribe of 36 million rubles (over PLN 1.5 million) from a factory supplying the ministry with communication equipment.

Several Russian military commanders and defense ministry officials have also been detained in recent weeks. Two days before Szamarin's arrest, the media informed Fr arrest of General Ivan Popov, former commander of the 58th All-Military Army fighting in Ukraine. Popov, considered by independent commentators to be one of the most competent Russian generals, is suspected of committing a “large-scale fraud”.

Read also: Almost a minute about American support for Ukraine. Deepfake with a State Department spokesperson

For Tatiana Stanovaya, a specialist at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, the reasons for getting rid of figures like Ivanov and Shamarin are simple. – Part of Putin's logic is that you cannot appoint someone to this position (defense minister) if there are still elements of his predecessor's influence and interests, she said.

To help clean up the ministry, Putin appointed Oleg Savelyev, a former auditor of the Russian Audit Chamber, as deputy defense minister. He will be “aware of the corruption that already exists in the defense sector,” Komin said.

Is Gerasimov also at risk?

Due to the radical changes introduced by Putin, there were rumors that the position of Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff, was also at risk.

“There are many rumors circulating now that he (Gerasimov) may be released soon,” Stanovaya said. The fact that he has been spared so far gives Gerasimov “a window in which to start fighting for his own interests,” she added. “Gerasimov is now fighting his enemies, trying to secure his future,” she said.

Read also: Russian authorities want to charge the legendary chess player

Komin said that Gerasimov can keep his position for now, as Putin has announced that he does not intend to make further personnel changes.

Valery GerasimovMurat Kula/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The analyst suggested that Gerasimov's luck may lie in the fact that there is no position for him similar to the one Shoigu has now occupied, to which he can be removed without completely tarnishing his reputation. – Finding a new person is not a big problem. The bigger issue is finding a place for the previous one, he said.

Main photo source: Misha Japaridze/Reuters/Forum

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