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Did Putin sack his Defence Minister over fraud or an affair?


President Vladimir Putin fired Russia's Defence Minister yesterday, in a move ostensibly linked to a corruption scandal that had been brewing for weeks.

Anatoly Serdyukov, the first civilian to head Russia's Defence Ministry, had been in the job for five years, during which time he pushed through a number of reforms that were unpopular with the conservative army top brass.

Mr Serdyukov was the manager of a chain of furniture stores until Mr Putin first became President in 2000, when he began a rapid rise.

Many analysts suggested this may have been due to his marriage to the daughter of Viktor Zubkov, a former prime minister and close associate of Mr Putin.

The Russian President has been a staunch supporter of Mr Serdyukov's tenure at the ministry in the face of criticism from the generals and the minister's own suggestions that he might prefer a civilian role.

Now, however, Mr Putin has had a change of heart. The President made the announcement during a meeting with Mr Serdyukov's replacement, Sergei Shoigu, who moves from the job of Governor of Moscow Region. Mr Putin said that the shake-up was "in order to create the necessary conditions for the objective investigation of all issues".

Russia's Investigative Committee says the state has been defrauded of about 3bn roubles (£60m) in just a few of the cases it has reviewed concerning Oboronservis, a state-controlled contractor that takes orders for military maintenance. Vladimir Markin, the committee's spokesman, said Mr Serdyukov would be questioned "if there is a reason".

However, some have suggested that there may be more than meets the eye in the case. Russia's higher echelons of government are subject to a constant flow of corruption allegations, and the fact that a case makes it as far as investigation often suggests an ulterior motive at play.

The most intriguing is the possible link between Mr Serdyukov and Yevgeniya Vasiliyeva, a senior manager at Oboronservis. When police raided her apartment two weeks ago at 6am, a bleary-eyed Mr Serdyukov was found to be staying there too, according to LifeNews, a website that often leaks information from the Russian security services.

One theory is that Mr Serdyukov had offended Mr Zubkov – and thus Mr Putin – by splitting up with his daughter. The anti-corruption blogger and opposition politician, Alexei Navalny, wrote a scathing post saying that the "main rule" of those around Mr Putin was "you must honour the family" and that Mr Serdyukov had forgotten this simple Mafia-esque code, and thus prompted his downfall. Other analysts said this was simplistic and that a more likely reason was a power struggle between different groups around Mr Putin, or simply that the President had caved in to pressure from the military to remove an unpopular minister who had tried to slash the officer corps and disbanded many units.