Putin's military purge: why this “cleansing” of the Russian president in the Ministry of Defense?

Russia has detained several generals and senior officials of the Ministry of Defense in recent weeks to restructure the senior staff of its Armed Forcesquestioned for their levels of corruption and inefficiency at a time when they seek to give new impetus to their offensive in Ukraine.

The authorities reported this Thursday the arrest of Vadim Shamarin, deputy chief of the General Staff for communicationsand Vladimir Verteletski, head of a service in the Defense public procurement department.

Shamarin He was arrested last Wednesday for having “accepted a particularly large bribe” and could face a sentence of up to 15 years in prison. According to experts, Russian troops had significant problems in the area of ​​communications at the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

For his part, Verteletski was accused of “abuse of power in the exercise of their functions”indicated the Investigative Committee, which specified that the detainee had caused losses of more than 70 million rubles (about 706,000 euros at the current exchange rate).

Arrests multiplied in the Ministry of Defense and in the upper echelons of the Russian Army since the end of April, but the Kremlin denies the existence of a purge as such and assures that these are anti-corruption operations.

“The fight against corruption is a continuous work, it is not a campaign” of purges, assured the spokesman for the Russian presidency, Dmitri Peskov. Before Verteletski and Shamarin, the Deputy Minister of Defense, Timur Ivanov, and Yuri Kuznetsovhead of human resources at the ministry, were arrested for corruption.

Another general, Ivan Popov, was recently arrested for “fraud”. This “cleansing” in the Russian upper echelons has driven the arrival of technocrats to the front of the Kremlin's war machine.

President Vladimir Putin's historic Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu was replaced in mid-May by an economist without military experience, Andrei Belousov.

“Blatant corruption”

For Russian military expert Alexander Khramchikhin, the authorities knew “for a long time” that The defense budget was used inefficientlybut in times of war, this reality “has become too obvious to turn a blind eye to.”

Even more so if one takes into account that Russia, the target of Western sanctions, has reoriented its economy towards the war industrywith a 70% increase in the federal budget for defense planned for 2024.

In order not to get too excited, the Kremlin waited for the cabinet reshuffle after Putin's re-election in March for a fifth term. “In times of war, money must be spent correctly. Hence the appointment of Belousov: he has to make sure that (…) it is not wasted,” noted the expert.

Corruption in the Russian leadership was uone of the main criticisms of the head of the paramilitary group WagnerYevgeny Prigozhin, who instigated a rebellion in June 2023 and died two months later in a plane crash in circumstances that remain unclear.

Even so, Prigozhin's two sworn enemies were not “purged”: Former Defense Minister Shoigi was appointed Secretary of the Security Council and Chief of the General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, remains in his position.

The future of another general, Sergei Surovikin, highly respected by the troops but fallen from grace after Wagner's revolt, remains uncertain. The last time he was seen in public was in September 2023, during a visit to Algeria.

“The situation (in the army) is serious and the corruption is flagrant”, concluded a prominent Russian military analyst, who requested anonymity. In his opinion, Putin is aware that the war of attrition against Ukraine cannot last forever and he is forced to “take radical measures”, “changing the men from the rear”, where “the problems are”.

The objective is “get results” on the front before the Ukrainian army regains strength with the arrival of new Western weaponry and the mobilization of new soldiers. “The most important thing for the Kremlin is to win the war, not defeat corruption,” he said.