Thursday, May 23, 2024

Russian deputy defense minister fired after arrest on corruption charges

HomeWARRussian deputy defense minister fired after arrest on corruption charges

In a stunning corruption case that could shake up Russia’s military establishment, a senior Kremlin official overseeing the rebuilding of war-ravaged Mariupol has been arrested on charges of pocketing illicit payments.

Timur Ivanov, a deputy defense minister handpicked to lead reconstruction efforts in areas of Ukraine seized by Russian forces, was hauled into custody Tuesday in Moscow. Investigators accuse him of accepting a 1 million ruble ($10,800) bribe related to defense contracts, Russian state media reported.

The high-profile arrest delivers an embarrassing black eye to President Vladimir Putin just over two years into his flailing invasion of neighboring Ukraine. It represents the most explosive corruption scandal to rock Russia’s defense hierarchy since the war began in February 2022.

Appearing in a Moscow courtroom Wednesday in his military uniform, the 55-year-old Ivanov cut a striking figure confined in a glass defendants’ cage typically used for high-security cases. A judge ordered him jailed until at least June 23 as he awaits trial on bribery charges involving an “organized group” – charges that could see him imprisoned for up to 15 years if convicted.

Ivanov’s lawyer insisted his client was innocent, requesting that he be released to house arrest rather than kept in custody. But the judge was unmoved, siding with prosecutors’ arguments to keep him locked up during proceedings.

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The deputy defense minister has been a prominent face of Russia’s troubled efforts to rebuild cities and towns pulverized during its onslaught against Ukraine. He frequently attended ceremonies in Mariupol, the Black Sea port city that became an early symbol of Moscow’s indiscriminate bombardment and disregard for civilian suffering.

After pummeling Mariupol into a smoldering ruins last spring, Russian authorities have rushed reconstruction projects there– hastily rebuilding apartments, infrastructure and beach resorts despite the scale of devastation. The Kremlin has portrayed the endeavor as a humanitarian initiative to restore essential services for local residents.

But the massive construction blitz in captured areas has fueled suspicions that Moscow’s true aim is solidifying its control over the territories, no matter their ultimate diplomatic status. Ukraine’s government has condemned the Russian rebuilding efforts as an illegal land grab meant to implant a permanent Russian footprint.

Allegations of bribery tied to those redevelopment initiatives risk undermining Moscow’s narrative about its benevolent intentions in places like Mariupol. The case against Ivanov also exposes potential high-level corruption profiteering from the misery inflicted by Russia’s invasion of its neighbor.

Ivanov has been closely allied with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who has faced withering criticism from Moscow’s hawks over strategic military failures and bumbling in Ukraine. Despite widespread calls for Shoigu’s dismissal, Putin has kept him in charge of the faltering campaign.

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The detention of such a high-level Shoigu deputy and trusted lieutenant could put new pressure on the defense chief’s tenuous position atop Russia’s armed forces. Or it may signal an attempt by security services to root out graft within the military’s upper echelons.

“This aligns with a tactic used by the FSB security service, where it arrests a high-ranking official in order to crack down on rule-breaking in the ministry or organization as a whole,” said Andrey Soldatov, a Russian investigative journalist. “Now that deputy will be extensively interrogated…and is supposed to provide incriminating evidence on big shots.”

While the case centers on an alleged bribe worth less than $11,000, Ivanov has been dogged by suspicions of operating a far more lucrative criminal racket stemming from abuse of his official position.

An investigation last year by jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s anti-corruption team accused Ivanov of wildly enriching himself from the Ukraine incursion. It claimed his ex-wife made lavish purchases including over $100,000 spent at a top Paris jewelry store in March 2022 – at the height of Russia’s bombardment of Mariupol.

“Ivanov had one of the most lucrative jobs that one can have in the defense ministry, and the war in Ukraine made him a lot richer,” said Maria Pevchikh, the London-based head of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.

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Even as Russian bombs and missiles rained down on Ukrainian civilians, Pevchikh said Ivanov’s ex-wife Svetlana Maniovich appeared to live a life of opulence – yachting in the Mediterranean, skiing in the Alps and dwelling in a posh Paris apartment.

Maniovich seemingly evaded scrutiny over her former spouse’s alleged self-enrichment from overseeing the subjugation of Ukrainian cities like Mariupol. Her spending sprees drew accusations the couple were pocketing profits from the lucrative contracts doled out for reconstruction work in occupied areas.

The arrest could signal an effort by authorities to confront, at least selectively, the entrenched corruption and self-dealing that critics say has become endemic within Putin’s circle of loyalists and Russia’s state institutions. Or it may be a targeted purge within the defense establishment over failures in Ukraine.

Either way, rumblings of a high-stakes graft case tied directly to Russia’s stumbling Ukraine campaign deliver an unseemly reminder of an inescapable reality: While Ukrainian civilians have borne the brutal brunt of the invasion, some Russian officials may have further profited from the immense suffering and destruction they inflicted.

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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