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Another top Russian Defense Ministry official is arrested on bribery charges amid Kremlin shake-up

A second senior Russian defense official was arrested on bribery charges, officials said Tuesday, days after President Vladimir Putin replaced the defense minister in a Cabinet shake-up that fueled expectations of more such purges.

Lt. Gen. Yury Kuznetsov, the 55-year-old chief of the Defense Ministry’s main personnel directorate, was arrested in a raid early Monday on his suburban Moscow villa, Russian media reported. He was detained on charges of bribery and jailed pending an investigation and trial, according to the Investigative Committee, Russia’s top state criminal investigation agency.

Kuznetsov is accused of accepting an “exceptionally large bribe,” a charge punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The committee alleged he received the bribe in his previous post as head of the military General Staff’s directorate in charge of preserving state secrets, a position he held for 13 years.

In the raid, agents of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, broke down the doors and windows of his home while he was asleep, the reports said, seizing gold coins, luxury items and over 100 million rubles (just over $1 million) in cash.

His wife, who previously worked in several Defense Ministry structures, was also reportedly interrogated.

On Sunday, Putin reshuffled his Cabinet as he starts his fifth term in office, replacing Sergei Shoigu, who served as defense minister for 11 1/2 years, with Andrei Belousov, an economics expert and former deputy prime minister. Putin named Shoigu the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, a role roughly similar to the U.S. national security adviser, replacing Nikolai Patrushev.

Patrushev, a hawkish and powerful member of Putin’s inner circle who held the job for 16 years, was appointed a presidential aide. Alexei Dyumin, the governor of the Tula region and often mentioned as a potential Putin successor, also was named a presidential aide.

Patrushev will oversee Russian shipbuilding industries in his new job, but may later also deal with other duties, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday.

He rejected notions that Shoigu’s reshuffle represented a demotion, describing his new role as a “very senior job with broad responsibilities.”

While Shoigu, who had personal ties with Putin and accompanied him on vacations in the Siberian mountains over the years, was given a new senior position, the future of his close entourage in the Defense Ministry appeared in doubt under Belousov.

Shoigu’s deputy, Timur Ivanov, was arrested last month on bribery charges and was ordered to remain in custody pending an official investigation. His arrest was widely interpreted as an attack on Shoigu and a possible precursor to his dismissal.

The shake-up appeared to be an attempt to put the defense sector in sync with the rest of the economy and tighten control over soaring military spending amid allegations of rampant corruption in the top military brass.

Speaking Tuesday at the upper house of parliament, Belousov said Putin has given him the task to more closely integrate the defense sector into the national economy.

“It’s not an easy task, it’s comprehensive and primarily implies optimization of military spending,” he said. “First and foremost, optimization means increasing efficiency.”

He credited Shoigu with overseeing the modernization of the military but emphasized the importance of attaining Russia’s goals in Ukraine with minimal casualties.

Belousov also cited the need to increase supplies of modern artillery and missile systems, drones and electronic warfare assets. He said the military would continue bolstering its ranks with volunteers, noting there is no need for another round of mobilization.

A partial mobilization of 300,000 reservists that Putin ordered in fall 2022 amid the military setbacks was widely unpopular, prompting hundreds of thousands to flee abroad to avoid being drafted.

In an apparent jab at Shoigu and his entourage who were widely criticized by pro-Kremlin military bloggers of hiding setbacks in Ukraine from Putin, Belousov said he would proceed from the “ironclad principle: it’s possible to make mistakes but it’s inadmissible to lie.”

Shoigu has been widely seen as a key figure behind Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine in February 2022, and many Russian hawks criticized him for overstating Russian military capabilities.

He and the chief of the General Staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, had faced strong criticism from Russian hawks for military setbacks, including the failure to capture Kyiv early in the war and a Russian retreat from northeastern and southern Ukraine later that year.

The shake-up came as Russian troops pressed new offensives, trying to take advantage of a slowdown in Western aid to Ukraine in what many observers see as a decisive moment in the war.

The Kremlin sought to ease widespread bewilderment over choosing an economics expert with no military record as defense minister by emphasizing that Gerasimov, who directs the fighting in Ukraine, has kept his post.

Peskov also dismissed the allegations that the shake-up and the arrests of senior Defense Ministry officials could disorganize the military and affect events in Ukraine.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

By The Associated Press

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