MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin fired his defense minister Tuesday amid a criminal investigation into suspected fraud and embezzlement involving military assets.
Putin announced his decision to dismiss Anatoly Serdyukov two weeks after the federal Investigative Committee announced it was probing the possible “fraudulent sale of real estate, land plots and stocks” belonging to the military. The investigation apparently already showed the equivalent of more than $100 million in losses to the government, the committee said.
The case involves Oboronservice, a company affiliated with the country’s defense ministry, and Yevgeniya Vasilyeva, a close associate of Serdyukov’s who once headed the ministry’s property department. Investigators say military assets, including real estate, were sold at significantly reduced prices to “business structures affiliated with Oboronservice” and that in addition “many real estate objects were bought with money stolen from the same” company.
Putin said Serdyukov would be replaced by Sergei Shoigu, who was appointed Moscow regional governor six months ago after serving 20 years as the country’s emergency situations minister.
“You know about the recent circumstances unfortunately surrounding the defense minister,” Putin said in televised remarks. “In order to create the necessary conditions for an objective investigation … I have decided to dismiss … Serdyukov and appoint another person to this job.”
Serdyukov was appointed by Putin in 2007 to oversee military reforms. Those included the dismissal of several hundred generals and 200,000 officers and the securing of billions of dollars from the state budget to restructure the armed forces.