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Russia Detains Senior General, Widening Military Purge

Russian security agents detained a senior general early Tuesday, widening a purge of the country’s sprawling Defense Ministry amid President Vladimir V. Putin’s broader shake-up of his government.

Lt. Gen. Yuri Kuznetsov, who oversaw the ministry’s personnel department, was detained on an accusation of “large-scale” bribery, Russia’s Investigative Committee, a federal law enforcement agency, said in a statement on Tuesday.

His detention came after Mr. Putin unexpectedly removed his long-serving defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, from his post and replaced him with a member of his economic team.

Prosecutors said General Kuznetsov received a bribe from “commercial interests” between 2021 and 2023, when he worked on the protection of state secrets at the Armed Forces’ General Staff. The prosecutors claimed that security agents discovered cash equivalent to $1 million and luxury items during a search of General Kuznetsov’s home.

A career officer, General Kuznetsov worked on the General Staff for 13 years before assuming his post in the Defense Ministry in 2023.

A photo made available by the Russian Defense Ministry of Lt. Gen. Yuri Kuznetsov. Credit…Russian Defense Ministry, via Associated Press

General Kuznetsov is the second senior Russian defense official to be detained in the past month. A deputy defense minister, Timur Ivanov, was detained and charged in April with the same crime, “large-scale” bribery.

Mr. Ivanov was known for the extravagant lifestyle of his wife and was widely seen as a protégé of Mr. Shoigu. Mr. Putin’s broader reshuffle of senior security posts this week indicates a focus on improving the management of Russian military resources, in order to outlast Ukraine in a war of attrition. This focus on resource management could partly explain the government’s attempts to show action against graft.

Russia’s Defense Ministry has long been widely perceived as a hotbed of corruption. Some analysts have said the systematic pilfering of state defense contracts was one of the reasons for the Russian Army’s disastrous initial invasion of Ukraine in 2022, when nominally modernized divisions were sent into battle with outdated and insufficient equipment.

In Russia, ultranationalist supporters of the war in Ukraine have blamed what they perceive as greed and aloofness of senior generals for heavy military losses and meager territorial gains.

Mr. Shoigu’s chief rival, the ultranationalist warlord Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, last year seized on this popular discontent with senior command to launch a mutiny that came within 120 miles of Moscow, briefly shaking Mr. Putin’s hold on power. (Mr. Prigozhin eventually backed down, and died several months later in a plane crash.)

Prominent ultranationalist commentators have greeted the arrests of Mr. Ivanov and General Kuznetsov, as well as the demotion of Mr. Shoigu, with muted glee, suggesting high-level military corruption remains a galvanizing issue for the war’s supporters, as well as a political threat to Mr. Putin.

Mikhail Zvinchuk, one of Russia’s most-read military bloggers, wrote on Monday that he hoped Mr. Shoigu’s demotion would lead to “a comprehensive audit and overhaul of all financial models of the Defense Ministry.”

Another pro-war military blogger, Kirill Fedorov, who has half a million subscribers on Telegram, a messaging app, on Tuesday titled a video about General Kuznetsov’s arrest “Is it 1937 again?,” a reference to Joseph Stalin’s brutal purge of generals and other members of the Soviet elite.

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