Date: 4 October 2017
Severe losses in Syria, some errors committed during the Zapad-2017 military drills, and, most of all, the loud corruption scandals in the army: Minister of Defense, Sergey Shoygu, has recently had a horrible time. The subsequent troubles may resonate with the general’s popularity (in this regard, only Putin seems to be more prominent than him), but, more importantly, they might weaken his position in the power elite. Many people consider him as the successor of the current president, which is not accepted by other potential candidates. It is possible that Shoygu’s political enemies will take advantage of the minister’s recent failures, or even provoke them, in order to overhaul his potential candidacy for a position as president. Such a situation resembles a similar operation from 2007 targeted at the then Minister of Defense Sergei Ivanov.
At the end of September, Russia lost in Syria the head of military advisers General Asapov as well as Colonel Fedyanin within a few days. The former was the commander of the army whereas the latter was in charge of the brigade. At the same time, the Russians almost lost several dozens of military police soldiers during the rebels offensive in the province of Idlib. Everything happened shortly after Sergey Shoygu’s visit to Damascus, talks with Bashar al-Assad and almost formal announcement of the victorious end of the war. Moreover, Shoygu’s image deteriorated after the Zapad-2017 military drills. As always, various errors and incidents may happen during such maneuvers. Interestingly enough, a lot of information leaked to the media. During the exercises, random vehicles and a helicopter were caught under fire and two aircrafts were lost, including a strategic bomber. To make matters worse, a serious accident happened to the commander of the Russian Airborne Troops; as a result, General Serdyukov was hospitalized in a severe condition.
Nevertheless, the real threat to Shoygu can be found somewhere else. Investigators dealing with corruption cases have reached the minister’s vicinity. As a result, Colonel Alexander Vakulin, who brilliantly headed the department’s food supply management of the Ministry of Defence, was put under custody. He was Shoygu’s favourite. According to the investigators, he took a bribe – supposedly, it was a record high one in the ministry’s history – with one of the contracts. In addition, Shoygu appears somewhere in the background of the story. And this is not the only loud corruption case in the army. A final judgement was issued in the case of the group of soldiers from the South Military District. It turned out that they had defrauded hundreds of millions of roubles by inflating the value of supply contracts for the 102nd Military Base in Gyumri (Armenia). Their method was quite simple: the number of Russian soldiers stationed in that base was greatly inflated, that is from 800 even to 1500. All these reports have a bad effect on Shoygu’s image and they may weaken his political position. Is it possible that two senior militaries will be dismissed? Nobody knows that. On September 26, Putin dismissed the commander of the Russian Aerospace Forces, Viktor Bondarev. On the same day, also Deputy Commander of the Black Sea Fleet, Vice Admiral Valery Kulikov lost his position.
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