Russia purges military leadership, as war drags on

Russia launches ground offensive Kharkiv
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Russia has arrested a number of generals and military leaders in recent weeks, seeking to overhaul an army hierarchy seen as corrupt and inefficient in an reinvigorated push for victory in Ukraine.

With the Kremlin now trying to beat Ukraine by outspending it on artillery, missiles, drones and ammunition, Moscow is putting a tighter leash on senior military bosses.

This means clamping down on allegations of rampant fraud and personal enrichment.

State media reported Thursday that Vadim Shamarin, deputy chief of Russia’s general staff, had been arrested on large-scale bribe taking. He is the third senior military figure to be arrested on corruption charges in the past month.

“It’s a real fight against corruption,” said Alexander Khramchikhin, deputy director of the Moscow-based Institute for Political and Military Analysis.

“In wartime, money must be spent correctly.”

The arrests are part of the most serious reshuffle in Russia’s military leadership since it invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

Putin this month removed his long-time ally Sergei Shoigu as defence minister, replacing him with economist Andrei Belousov.

A deputy defence minister Timur Ivanov, and the ministry’s head of personnel, Yury Kuznetsov, have also been arrested on bribery charges in the last month.

– ‘Turn a blind eye’ –

Dealing with lucrative and classified procurement contracts, Russia’s military has a reputation as a hotbed of corruption.

The Ukraine invasion thrust those allegations to the fore.

In scathing posts to millions of social media followers, pro-war military bloggers blamed financial mismanagement for battlefield failures and high casualties.

The Kremlin has long “understood” that its military spending is “inefficient,” said Khramchikhin.

“But it became too obvious in wartime to turn a blind eye to it.”

Some say the arrests and removal of Shoigu vindicates Yevgeny Prigozhin, the former head of the Wagner paramilitary unit who railed against corruption in the army on an almost daily basis.

Prigozhin died in a plane crash weeks after staging a mutiny in a bid to oust Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.

In a new approach, Putin has recently started highlighting the vast sums Moscow is pouring into its army.

Military spending accounts for about eight percent of Russia’s economy, he said last week, calling it a “great resource” that should be used “carefully and effectively”.

The Kremlin said Belousov’s appointment as defence minister aimed to optimise spending and drive military innovation.

Russia’s 2024 defence budget is about $120 billion, a third of all government spending.

– ‘Ideal solution’ –

Putin’s spokesman on Thursday denied Moscow was purging senior military figures.

“The fight against corruption is an ongoing effort. It is not a campaign. It is an integral part of the activities of law enforcement agencies,” Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

The Rybar Telegram channel, which has close links to the army, said the arrests were an “ideal solution for everybody.”

“The soldiers at the front get something positive, the new defence minister’s team gets a loud start, the problems start to be solved immediately … and the ordinary population cheers,” it said.

Other military bloggers celebrated the arrest of Shamarin, who headed the general staff’s communications directorate.

“Even 15 years in prison in this case is nothing, considering that the quality of communications — more specifically the lack thereof — has been one of the biggest problems since the start of the special military operation, directly responsible for the deaths of several thousand people,” the GreyZone telegram channel said.

– ‘Win the war’ –

Russia’s leadership shake-up comes with its troops finally advancing on the frontlines after months of stalemate.

Moscow has chalked up its most significant gains in Ukraine for 18 months in a major assault on Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region.

One senior Russian military analyst, who requested anonymity to speak freely, said the new approach showed Putin was worried about the situation, despite the recent advances.

“The Kremlin realises time is working against Russia. In a few weeks, new weapons will reach Ukraine,” the analyst said.

Fresh supplies of US weapons are on their way to Ukrainian troops, something Kyiv hopes will rebalance the frontlines.

The arrests was not a sign of Russia’s sudden interest in clamping down on graft, the expert stressed. “The main thing for the Kremlin is to win the war, not to defeat corruption.”

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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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