Serdyukov Speaks to Investigators

Former Defense Minister Serdyukov apparently decided to speak to investigators last week, shifting his previous stance of taking the 51st or providing written statements.  Media outlets said the appearance of “new materials” caused the change in his tactics.

Last Monday, Newsru.com recapped a Kommersant story saying that Serdyukov’s signature was on documents transferring the Bolshoy Utrish property to his brother-in-law Valeriy Puzikov.  But investigators haven’t talked to the ex-minister about that case yet, which they say amounts to large-scale fraud by a group of conspirators.

Recall the Defense Ministry obtained this Black Sea coastal property near Anapa in 2010 to build a radar station, but, with the help of Yekaterina Smetanova, it was excessed for two-thirds of the military’s purchase price to Puzikov. 

According to Newsru.com from Tuesday, Serdyukov was called to the GVSU SKR to meet with investigators about the Zhitnoye dacha.  ITAR-TASS said he provided 11 pages of evidence, and claimed the Defense Ministry participated in this civilian project out of military “necessity.”

On Wednesday, Politkom.ru commentator Tatyana Stanovaya reported that the ex-Defense Minister talked to investigators for five hours.

She believes Putin doesn’t want Serdyukov to sit in jail, and anonymous media sources say he told SKR chief Aleksandr Bastrykin as much early on.  She sees it like this:

“It’s important for Putin to sort out the corruption cases, to intimidate the elite, but generally not to get worn out with real purges.  He recognizes corruption as an evil, but an unbeatable evil which is part of Russia’s historical tradition.  In other words, for Putin thievery is an insufficient basis for ‘sitting’ given the political loyalty of the ‘figure.'”

Bastrykin notwithstanding, the siloviki think they long since had enough evidence for Serdyukov’s prosecution. 

Stanovaya cites Kommersant’s report that the former minister decided to cooperate, to talk, because investigators recently conducted searches and seized documents on the case from his relatives.  The commentator believes his more constructive position improves his chances of escaping the affair without criminal charges.

If the existing affair of the three dachas weren’t enough, Nezavisimaya gazeta unearthed another issue last week.

In the deal to import light armored vehicles from the Italian firm IVECO, Serdyukov’s Defense Ministry allegedly conspired to avoid paying customs duties amounting to $10 million.  All for vehicles of questionable suitability for Russian conditions.  NG concludes charges will be brought against the Oboronservis officials involved in the purchase.   

The paper wonders out loud if Serdyukov will play a part in the regime’s anti-corruption campaign (such as it is): 

“A critical mass of dissatisfaction is accumulating.  The country’s leadership is turning into a hostage of its own effort to reprove part of the confused elite in this way.  Citizens have learned too much about the life of high officialdom so it’s possible the ‘valve could turn’ at any moment.  It’s possible for this besides the usual cosmetic means of a party-political character a serious sacrificial victim is required — if the process of disclosures goes far enough.  It’s possible that now some backstage casting for the role of such a victim is going on.”

Izvestiya provided details on Serdyukov’s personal involvement in building Puzikov’s resort on Zhitnoye, where he claimed officers could stay (but not for free) after air defense exercises at Ashuluk.  The former Defense Minister traveled to the site 17 times between 2010 and 2012, while the road construction and landscaping was in progress, on Air Forces helicopters leased to Chkalov Avia.  That company’s majority owner is Anna Tretyakova, and her mother Yelena is general director of Zhitnoye.

Former General Staff Chief Makarov reportedly told investigators he ordered railroad troops (v/ch 42677) to build the 6.7-kilometer road and three bridges on Serdyukov’s personal order.  The construction materials came from that unit. 
 
A law enforcement source told the paper Puzikov and Serdyukov didn’t miss a trick: 
 
“First they built themselves a dacha at government expense, and then they wanted to rent out the very same — also at government expense.”

Moskovskiy komsomolets concludes Serdyukov’s assertion that Zhitnoye would serve the needs of servicemen would be funny if it weren’t so sad.  Then:

“So, as ‘MK’ has already written, Serdyukov must sit.  Otherwise Vladimir Putin can’t prove to 140 million Russian citizens that he is as before master of the situation.”

On balance, it seems prosecutors are closing on Serdyukov.  As written here in November, there’s too much blood in the water.  Putin will sacrifice him.  His effort to rebalance the political system he created depends on more than not letting the siloviki have Serdyukov.

And what of Serdyukov-instituted reforms which promised to change still largely Soviet Armed Forces into a more modern military?  The pain of reforms joined with the taint of high-level corruption to undermine them.  Their opponents could not possibly devise a more ingenious strategy to discredit them.  That too would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

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