Category Archives: Crime and Corruption

Military Academy Instructor Arrested in Bombing

Kommersant recently covered what’s happened on this case. Recall on April 2 St. Petersburg’s Military-Space Academy (VKA) named for Mozhayskiy was the scene of an apparent terrorist bombing. But the prime suspect is an instructor, Colonel Rifat Zakirov —  combat engineer and decorated EOD expert with two tours in the Chechen wars to his credit. Other sources say he’s a lieutenant colonel. He’s under house arrest.

Rifat Zakirov

Rifat Zakirov

Zakirov was injured in the blast and couldn’t be questioned for nearly a month. Military investigators say he had TNT and bomb components taken as war trophies, and he’s been charged with theft of explosives as well as illegally possessing and transporting them. But they say he didn’t intend to blow up VKA. No, he just wanted to privatize another military apartment.

Yes, Zakirov hoped his desperate action would resolve his unsatisfactory housing situation.

To back things up a bit, Zakirov once had a 58-square-meter two-room apartment in Sertolovo outside St. Petersburg. It was a service apartment (belonging to the MOD) he received in 2004 and immediately privatized. This satisfied the MOD’s obligation to provide the career officer with permanent housing. The widowed Zakirov lived there with his two sons.

But things got complicated. Relatives came to live with him. He remarried. In 2016, he asked the MOD to improve his circumstances, now outside the norm for inhabitants per square meter. The military duly assigned him a new service apartment in St. Petersburg but said he couldn’t privatize it because he couldn’t return the “permanent” one in Sertolovo where left his relatives.

So Zakirov hatched the plot to plant an explosive device, discover, and disarm it. As a hero, the MOD wouldn’t deny another request to privatize his second, larger apartment.

When Zakirov and colleagues entered the VKA building on April 2, he “noticed” a suspicious package with a mobile phone with wires inside. He sounded the alarm and evacuated cadets and staff. Wearing a protective vest and helmet, he was about to cover the bomb with a vest when it detonated. The bomb contained no shrapnel and, other than Zakirov, no one was seriously hurt by the explosion.

If someone other than the GVSU claimed all this, you’d say he was crazy.

Death of a Conscript

Authorities are investigating the murder of a 19-year-old Russian conscript in his motorized rifle regiment near Voronezh. The Western MD at first reported he died of a heart attack, but he was apparently beaten to death.

The regiment is a troubled unit where other servicemen have been murdered, died under suspicious circumstances, or committed suicide in recent years. 

Stepan Tsymbal

Last fall Stepan Tsymbal was called up to the army from his home near Korenovsk, Krasnodar territory. He was sent to military unit 91711 — the 252nd Motorized Rifle Regiment of the 3rd MRD in Boguchar, Voronezh region.

He served in the regiment’s material-support company, possibly as a cook. The regiment was deployed to a field encampment on the Pogonovo range for training in early February.

Tsymbal was found dead on February 10. The commanding officer informed his family the next morning. They were told his heart stopped. The Western MD initially and inexplicably reported no signs of violence on Tsymbal’s body. However, the death notice from his regiment even indicated he was the victim of a violent attack.

Stepan Tsymbal's death notice

According to Yuga.ru, the Investigative Department for the Voronezh garrison opened a murder investigation on February 11.

The military returned his body on February 13 but his family wasn’t allowed to view it completely. But they didn’t need to see much to see Stepan was beaten to death.

His stepfather Dmitriy told Yuga.ru:

“They didn’t show us the body fully. We saw his face a little. His mouth was all bloody, as if his teeth had been kicked in. It was also like he had no eyes, gauze was placed on them. And his entire face was wrapped [with gauze] and poured over with some kind of glue. In the temple area, we also saw a hematoma, a dent. And his hands were also very strange. Some kind of black like they hadn’t been washed.”

Dmitriy told the regional news agency that, in regular calls home, Stepan hadn’t complained about military service or mentioned any hazing or abuse.

His body came back without his documents, mobile phone, or the crucifix and glasses he wore, according to his stepfather.

His family said Stepan had no previous heart ailments. He passed through the normal  medical exams prior to entering the service and the doctors had found nothing to keep him out of the army, according to the Kuban edition of Komsomolskaya pravda.

According to KP-Kuban, Stepan’s other relatives said:

“His mouth was bloody, near the temple there was a dent and hematoma. It was like he didn’t have eyes, gauze was on them, and his entire face was simply wound with bandages poured over with some kind of glue. The impression is as if they tried to hide something.”

His hands were reportedly purple in color right up to the wrist.

KP-Kuban reported that it obtained part of an investigative report saying:

“They found Tsymbal in the dishwashing tent, on the floor. He was in a sitting position with legs and arms taped together and stretched out in front. And there was a plastic bag on his head, wrapped around his neck with adhesive tape.”

The news agency’s source said his head was beaten. There was a large abrasion on the back of the head, so it’s possible he died from a closed head injury.

Relatives said they’d heard a lot about his unit, and other guys who died there. So, they won’t let the case be hushed up and want the guilty to be found and punished to the extent of the law.

According to Lenta.ru, the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers says two servicemen have already been arrested on suspicion of involvement in his death while four others who found the body are being detained by base security.

It seems likely the law and order situation in Russia’s military has improved over the past five or six years since the armed forces have received greater funding and political attention. But the savage killing of Tsymbal shows it’s still not exactly safe for young Russians to serve in the army.

Furthermore, it’s difficult to gauge how frequently conscripts are dying today because the Kremlin and MOD have made a concerted effort to suppress bad news whenever possible. Their next step will be to lean on Tsymbal’s family or pay them off to stay quiet about what happened to him.

Today’s press said Tsymbal’s parents have created a petition addressed to the MOD, Main Military Prosecutor, and Main Military Investigative Directorate demanding punishment for the unit’s commander and the disbanding of the regiment.

Reports on the condition of the boy’s body have become more graphic and gruesome saying that half his face was gone. It certainly sounds like something more than a murder in the heat of the moment. It seems like someone was trying to send other soldiers a message.

See this old post covering Gazeta.ru’s reporting about this troubled regiment where Stepan Tsymbal served.

Officers reportedly often extorted money from conscripts for the “needs of the unit.” They also used soldiers from the material-support battalion as enforcers to keep other troops in line. The unit canteen was supposedly used as a “mobile trading post” for the financial benefit of officers. Perhaps something akin to this had some part in Tsymbal’s death. But there are likely plenty of men in the unit who know what led to this if they aren’t afraid to talk and are allowed to.

The case of Stepan Tsymbal might be galvanizing like that of Andrey Sychev. At least, it could take considerable effort for the Kremlin and military to quash it.

Trouble Brigade

Under Sergey Shoygu, the Russian MOD has pretty much accomplished two things.

First, it has generally improved service conditions for the average officer and soldier.  More money is available for this purpose than at any time since 1992.  It is financing military construction on a broad front.

Second, it has conducted a concerted and successful campaign to suppress almost all negative information about the armed forces.  It has driven once vigorous Russian military journalism to its lowest ebb.  It’s no surprise since President Vladimir Putin has done the same to civilian journalism.

Still, a Gazeta.ru piece by Vladimir Vashchenko from 29 September is reminiscent of the best in Russian military journalism.

welcome-to-boguchar

Welcome to Boguchar

Vashchenko writes (not for the first time) about v / ch 54046 — the 9th Independent Motorized Rifle Visla Red Banner Order of Suvorov Brigade.  The 9th IMRB for short.

Recall that the 9th IMRB — along with the rest of the 20th CAA — is relocating from Nizhegorod to Boguchar in Voronezh Oblast.  Boguchar wasn’t picked out of a hat.  It’s a strategic point on today’s map.  For Russia, it’s the frontline of the war in eastern Ukraine.

boguchar-map

The 9th adds significant ground power to Russian forces near pro-Moscow Lugansk.

Vashchenko writes about the deaths of several of soldiers in the brigade over recent months.

On 24 September, a 35-year-old contractee killed himself.  He was an infantryman from the 2nd Battalion.  His suicide was precipitated primarily by family problems.

Earlier in September, another serviceman died after a fight with some locals, according to official reports, but a source tells Vashchenko he was run over by an officer driving under the influence.

In July, a junior sergeant was found dead.  He previously had a conflict with an officer and had already requested a transfer.  His death is under investigation by the GVP and GVSU.

In April, a conscript died just 23 days before his demob date.  With no evidence of a crime, his death isn’t being investigated.

Another conscript died in the spring of last year, but Vashchenko could unearth no details about what happened.

Vashchenko writes that social networks of mothers with conscript sons report Boguchar has a bad reputation as a formation where officers extort money from their young charges.

The author talked to several men who serve, or served, in the brigade.  Some came to him after reading his August story about Boguchar.

One told of sleeping two men to a couch because of the lack of proper bunks.  He also had to buy his own uniforms.  A friend in his unit had to pay to go to the infirmary about a problem with his knees.

An emotional ex-soldier told Vashchenko, “It’s a ‘hole,’ not a unit!”

Another claimed the brigade keeps two sets of medical records.  One for inspections indicating all soldiers are perfectly healthy, and a second set detailing their true maladies.

He told Vashchenko that anti-terrorist drills in the brigade were a joke.  Its perimeter was porous, and it never passed.  A man acting the part of suicide bomber walked around the brigade and could have “exploded” several times.

He said the brigade’s command made sure to intimidate the troops before inspections to ensure none would tell their guests about real conditions in the formation.

He said officers looked at soldiers like cattle, cattle that gave them money once a month.  Soldiers were abused if they didn’t pay “for the company’s needs” on time.  They even had to pay 500 rubles to receive their demob.

The command used certain soldiers to “supervise” others and keep them in line. One group were troops from the material support battalion.  They ran the brigade’s canteen which was really a mobile “trading post” for the financial benefit of unit commanders.

Vashchenko’s interlocutor says his service in Boguchar dissuaded him from signing up as a contractee.  He sums it up:

“I believe the army certainly has to be harsh, at times even cruel, just not like there.  You know under pain of death I wouldn’t go into battle or on reconnaissance with a single one of our officers.  And this given that I served after getting a higher education, but imagine what happens with kids of 18 who don’t yet have a strong psyche.  To me the army and conditions like Boguchar turn little boys not into real men but into scum and vermin that follow a one-way road — prison, alcoholism or drug addiction.”

Vashchenko also talked to Valentina Melnikova, head of the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees of Russia.  She traveled recently to Boguchar and called the situation “monstrous” with men living in tents and 4,000 personnel relying on a single water source.  But she hasn’t received complaints about abuses in the brigade.

A Different Take

On Topwar.ru, Roman Skomorokhov offered a spirited refutation of Vashchenko’s article on the 9th IMRB.  He writes that he visited the brigade six weeks ago.  According to him, Vashchenko simply repeats lies and throws mud on the army.

Skomorokhov claims security is good, and it’s not possible for an intruder to wander around the base.  Conditions are not ideal, he admits, but it’s not like the 1990s.  Boguchar is a hardship post at the moment, but one that is vitally needed to defend Russia’s southwestern frontier.

Moreover, Skomorokhov says, those now living in tents will be housed in newly-built barracks before winter.

There are injuries and deaths (outside of combat or training) and crimes in every army.  So what’s different about the Russian case?

The difference is a pervasive effort to suppress reporting of such incidents, or explain them away if they do make it into the news. Considerably more energy is expended on this now than ten years ago.

The brigade wants to keep incidents in the brigade.  The military district wants to keep them in the district.  The MOD wants to keep them in the MOD.  The Kremlin wants to keep them from gaining traction in the foreign media.  Remember the case of Andrey Sychev

Russians don’t want anyone to think their armed forces are not as modern, not as lethal, not as scary, not as well-financed, or not as orderly as they present them.  And this Potemkin village mentality has served them well.

The problem is, when fooling the bosses or the outside world about what is really happening, one also fools oneself.  And one is found out eventually.  

Look at the Baltic Fleet.  Its entire command was purged in June for this reason.  The MOD announced that high-ranking fleet officers were dismissed for: 

“. . . not taking all essential measures to improve the housing conditions of personnel, the lack of concern about subordinates, and also misrepresentations of the real state of affairs in reports.”

The Kremlin is not stupid.  It has always had its own channels of information inside the Russian military.  What does it do with what it learns?  The Baltic Fleet case might have been nothing more than serving notice on the rest of the military to clean up its act.  

Dizzy with Success

On Topwar.ru on 15 September, Aleksandr Staver and Roman Skomorokhov asked whether President Vladimir Putin, like his predecessor Stalin, has decided to curb (at least temporarily) his key program.  Today it’s rearmament rather than collectivization.

The authors assess the program and its problems from a conservative viewpoint.

They assert the arms program is not being fulfilled and the MOD budget is being cut (whether admitted or not).  In particular, they contend, it is new weapons programs that are suffering, so they argue for cheaper modernization of existing armaments.

Debate over rearmament is a constant.  Staver and Skomorokhov don’t even mention that the start of the next arms program was delayed, or that the MOD and Finance Ministry are far apart on funding it.

For his part, Putin routinely says the current GPV will not be cut, and the armed forces will have 70 percent modern arms and equipment in 2020.

But 70 percent, according to the authors of this op-ed, is not enough.  More is needed.

Then they turn to corruption.  They allege that the ones who are “dizzy with the success” of the arms program are the ones who are stealing from it.  They say a return to 1937 would put an end to this, and to other problems with rearmament.

Recall that even Putin and United Russia once talked about bringing treason charges for non-fulfillment of the GOZ, but nothing came of it.

So much for preamble.

“Dizzy with Success, or ‘Alarm’ in the Russian Army”

“We are so used to the fact that our army is powerful that we almost don’t notice, or more precisely, don’t wish to notice that light ‘clouds’ threatening to turn into bad storms have appeared over Russia’s VS [Armed Forces].  We talk and write with satisfaction about our aircraft which, at a minimum, don’t lag behind Western ones. We ‘procrastinate’ with Armata and its offshoots, comparing it to the best models of Western armies.  We discuss the advantages of our new missiles and systems.”

“And now, today exactly, heard here and there are announcements by various government bureaucrats and army chiefs about delaying arms procurement to another time, so to speak.  About delayed launches of ships.  About adjusting the schedule for delivering something to the troops.”

“So what’s with this.  Why is this happening?  Recently all officials, including the president and the prime minister, together talked about fulfilling the defense order almost as a matter of honor for Russia. Don’t many remember Putin’s April statement about the unconditional fulfillment of the state defense order?  And can’t many say exactly how much it is fulfilled and whether it is fulfilled?”

“The entire thing is that the necessary money is not in the budget!  The crisis, which we are ‘successfully overcoming,’ still has us in its claws.  We’ve talked a lot about the fact that sanctions hurt Europe and the USA, and how they [sanctions] are going to benefit us.  We are developing, increasing output, winning markets…  On any analytical program on our TV it’s possible to hear a full assortment of such pronouncements.”

“The support of the president and the real successes of our servicemen in Syria inspire hope in us that all this will come true.  The government will find money both for us and for the army.  Industry will begin to work not only well, but both quickly and cheaply.  New ideas of [arms] designers will be realized in the shortest time.”

“Prime Minister Medvedev’s decision, signed on 5 September, to adjust the GOZ for 2016 was only the first call.  It is understood that today there’s no clear data on this question.  Naturally, it’s possible to suppose that defense sector enterprises won’t receive some part of the promised resources.  And this, in its turn, means that GOZ plans for next year will be ruined.  A snowball of corrections will accumulate gradually from the details.”

“And not hiding the fact, by the way, does him credit, Putin himself already talks about the fact that by 2018 our army will be rearmed at 70%, and the state order will be reduced.  And he talks about what is needed to take the place of the defense order, but not pots and pans.”

“From the one side, one who is forewarned is forearmed.  But from the other?  It’s hard to guess with what enterprises will be occupied, with a miracle which drags them out of the debt hole.  And where will workers who turn out to be redundant go at this moment?  But we have already passed through such a scenario.”

“However, certain specifics have already ‘hatched.’ The Ministry of Defense plans to make the famous “Armata” the main battle tank by 2020.  With this aim, the purchase of more than 2,000 of such vehicles for military units has been proposed. According to the tank producer’s data, the order was already for 2,300 tanks.  But not long ago on the Ministry of Defense website an altogether different figure appeared: there is a plan to buy up to 70 “Armatas” in 2017-2019.”

“Naturally, the reasons for changing the [state defense] order aren’t named.  I think over some time versions about some shortcomings, about the modernization of what we already have, [and] some others.  Actually, the reason is banal.  They are cutting the military budget and will cut it.  It’s completely logical, you can’t take money from the shelf if there’s nothing on it.  So folks say.”

“The navy’s situation looks even more confused.  Even the blind see the necessity for modernizing the Russian fleet.  Ships, just like people, age, lose their striking power, and turn into respected veterans.  But we need warriors.  And these ‘warriors’ need to be built.  A lot of them.  The Soviet legacy can no longer guarantee a worthy answer to an aggressor.”

“It seems as though construction began from 2007.  Missile boats, small ships and even submarines began to leave the docks for testing.  New submarines, frigates were laid down at the wharves.  The rebirth had begun.”

“Our excessive belief in the ‘love and friendship of fraternal peoples’ became the first ‘obstacle.’  When construction was stopped by the Ukrainian side [sic].  They stopped supplying Ukrainian engines to us.  Actually, the question of ‘their’ components in combat equipment and armaments arose already in the last century.  And they successfully solved it in the USSR.  But in Russia they put it off ‘for later.'”

“Then the ‘rockslide’ of announcements by military and government bureaucrats on cutbacks in the needs of the fleet began.  I remind the readers about the project 11711 BDK [i.e. an LST].  A large assault ship which was needed to replace Soviet BDKs.  In 2004, a requirement for 6 of such ships for the navy was announced.  Then they decided to review the project.”

“Today we see two ships.  Two instead of six.  It’s been decided to shut down the project.  ‘Ivan Gren’ and ‘Petr Morgunov’ — that’s all that the fleet will receive after testing.”

“It’s possible to talk endlessly about the submarine fleet.  About new missile submarines.  But even they, alas, for the most part remain only projects.  The construction of boats of such a class is a very expensive undertaking.  And this means still unmanageable.”

“Even the Rocket Troops of Strategic Designation [RVSN] will not receive everything promised.  Although, for all times the priority was always right on these troops.  No, ‘Yars’ and similar systems will be supplied.  But land-based ‘Sarmat’ systems most probably won’t be deployed to the original plan.”

“I recall it was planned to replace by 2020 the already aged ‘Voyevod’ missiles (known to most by the NATO ‘nickname’ ‘Satan’) which have served out their time.  Today it’s understood that these plans aren’t being fulfilled.  Today already.  In the best case, such a replacement will occur in 2021.  Or a little later.”

“So where’s the way out of the situation which has been created?  Is there one generally?  I believe there is.  And today the way out is to use those developments which exist and have already been tested in combat.”

“When the VDV [Airborne Troops] commander announced the establishment of tank and BMP companies in units subordinate to him, what kind of vehicles did he mention?  He talked about T-72B3 tanks and BMP-2s.  I hope no one will chide General Shamanov for stupidity and a lack of desire to have the most powerful and modern weaponry?  So why exactly these vehicles?”

“Simply because both the tank and the combat vehicle have huge modernization potential.  And in the coming decades this potential will be used.  And mass serial production has reduced the cost of this equipment in the extreme.  And long use in the troops has revealed practically all ‘minuses’ of these vehicles.”

“Modernization of the T-72 to the T-72B3 level costs a bit more than 50 million rubles.  In other words, for one ‘Armata’ we can have several T-72B3s right away.   Naturally, the T-90 would be more desirable, but it is cost prohibitive.”

“It’s exactly the same situation with the famous T-50 system.  The aircraft is ready. Moreover, it’s been put in series production.  And in the plans it’s supposed to be the main fighter.  This ‘hulk’ looks impressive in our plans.  In 2020 we should already have 60 fighters in the force.  And in the future their production should increase.”

“In reality we’ll get exactly the same as ‘Armata.’  We want to do a ‘split,’ but our britches get in the way…  It will be good if we have a regiment of such aircraft in 2020.”

“But we have the fully combat capable, even compared to the American F-22 and F-35, Su-30MK.  And, according to the assertions of its builders, the potential of these aircraft is far from used up.”

“And what’s the result?  As a result, we see the famous ‘half-full glass.’  Part of the readers are now sighing sadly.  The army is ‘penned up.’  Another part thinks that the Russian Army, in the shape which we have it, can really confront the enemy.  The third part giggles happily.  They have failed to modernize.  Oafs.  We told them…”

“It’s not for nothing that I called this article by a Stalinist name.  This isn’t a greatness mania or a wish to show off knowledge of the works of the ‘leader of peoples.’  We truly have become a little ‘dizzy.’  Not everything has succeeded right away.”

“I generally believe that the right way to move is walking or running.  But not ‘leapfrog’ jumps.  Movement should be measured and in one direction.  Therefore, the modernization of the army should continue.  Continue, no matter what.  But not by busting a gut.”

“I would be wary of talking about our weapons and combat equipment like junk.  Particularly after what this equipment showed in Syrian battles.  Just the same to talk also about the superiority of Western armies in some components.  But if we view the army like the world, a ‘gap’ will always be found.  But this gap is always ‘plugged’ by something else.”

“The dizziness quickly passes if you leave the centrifuge or wheel.  If, of course, you have a properly functioning outer office staff.  I think healthy people serve in our Ministry of Defense.”

“But just one moment.  No one needs to have the fact that our bureaucrats are not simply greedily stealing everything possible explained to them.  It’s a rare day when the Internet and television don’t report about the latest stuff that’s ‘flown off.'”

“It’s necessary to stop those who ‘have become dizzy with success.’  With the methods of the person I quoted.  Severe and long-term.  Take that Zakharchenko.  9 billion rubles — that’s a great deal.  The T-90, for example, today costs about 120 million rubles.  That is 75 tanks laid in the brute’s hidey-holes.  Two battalions.  Not bad…”

“And this is one of the deputies…”

[Colonel Dmitriy Zakharchenko is, or was, deputy chief of Directorate T in the MVD’s Main Directorate of Economic Security and Countering Corruption until his arrest in early September.  The foreign currency equivalent of 8 billion rubles was found in his apartment.  See RIA Novosti for an early report on his case.]

“And if they search his relatives, it’s certain it would be possible to scrape together a brigade easily and without effort.”

“‘Effective managers’ of our times have shown that they can only steal effectively.  From the budget just the same as from the GOZ.”

“It’s necessary to change the situation really at the root.  And tear this root with a crunch and snap on the image and likeness of ’37.  With the confiscation of everything that’s possible.”

“Only then will the state defense order be fulfilled on time and without problems.  And the president won’t have to shuffle, talking about how 70 percent is sufficient so we should relax.”

“So isn’t it?”

Some MPs Fail First Test

Denis Mokrushin pointed out an interesting item from Lifenews.ru about new military police recruits in the Urals who recently paid 3,000-ruble [$45] bribes to their company commander.

Aleksandr Tsoy

Aleksandr Tsoy

32-year-old Captain Aleksandr Tsoy reportedly demanded 3,000 rubles from each of the 112 recruits under his command for retraining as MPs.  In exchange, Tsoy promised good living conditions, but he also threatened them with failing the training if they didn’t pay.  He certainly helped them fail their first test in any event.  In all, 106 paid the young officer a total of 318,000 rubles [$4,700] — the equivalent of several months pay for him.

Tsoy was relieved of duty during the investigation.

It’s interesting and inauspicious that only six trainees refused to pay. The Russian military should be worried that Tsoy apparently didn’t think he’d get caught.

Serdyukov Suspected

Anatoliy Serdyukov’s no longer a witness; he’s a suspect.

The Investigative Committee of Russia (SKR) suspects the former defense minister of negligence leading to the loss of more than 56 million rubles.  He reportedly gave verbal orders to use budget money to finance a road to the Zhitnoye resort in Astrakhan Oblast, and to have railroad troops build it.  Soldiers were also reportedly employed in landscaping Zhitnoye, owned by Serdyukov’s brother-in-law Valeriy Puzikov.

Putin and Medvedev at Zhitnoye in 2011 (photo: Press-Service of the President of Russia)

Putin and Medvedev at Zhitnoye in 2011 (photo: Press-Service of the President of Russia)

Serdyukov will appear on 3 December for questioning under Part 1, Article 293 of the RF Criminal Code, which reads:

“1.  Negligence, that is the non-fulfillment or unreliable fulfillment of his obligations by a responsible person as a result of an unconscientious or negligent attitude toward service, if this inflicts a great loss or material damage to the rights and legal interests of citizens or organizations or interests of society or the state protected by the law, -”

“Punishable by a fine in an amount up to one hundred twenty thousand rubles or in the amount of wages or other proceeds of the guilty party for a one year period, or mandatory work for a period up to three hundred sixty hours, or correctional labor for the period of one year, or arrest for a period up to three months.”

A command “from above” to pursue Serdyukov was required, and, apparently, it’s been given.

According to ITAR-TASS, SKR spokesman Vladimir Markin says a “final evaluation” of Serdyukov’s “illegal activity” will be made during the investigation.

Some observers believe, at a minimum, Serdyukov’s orders look like a more serious charge of “misuse of official authority” (Article 285).  But, as Nezavisimaya gazeta writes, most doubt prosecutors will lay a heavier accusation on Serdyukov.

Political commentator Gleb Pavlovskiy says making Serdyukov a suspect raises the bar for the next targets of anti-corruption investigations, but Pavlovskiy doesn’t think he’ll receive any real sentence:

“As regards Serdyukov, apparently, there’s a point of view that he must be punished somehow, but he mustn’t suffer because he was a politically loyal functionary.  The new accusation proceeds from the idea that Serdyukov is guilty for not preventing the growth of MOD corruption to a scandalous proportion, but he’s not guilty himself.”

Similarly, politician and analyst Vladimir Ryzhkov suggests a nominal conviction and sentence of community service hours might satisfy public opinion, and give President Putin an acceptable exit from a thorny problem.

Observer Igor Bunin adds:

“. . . Putin, when he decided it was necessary to sort things out with Serdyukov, followed two goals.  From one side, make the elite understand that it’s forbidden to cross certain lines, and from the other side — raise his own prestige.  But at the same time he understood that he depends on this elite, and it’s impossible to punish this once close person severely, he was in the very tight-knit group connected to Putin.”

Political scientist Pavel Salin, however, thinks Serdyukov’s fate may be the object of struggle between “hardliners” and moderates.  No longer satisfied with Putin as arbiter of the political system, “hardliners” want a conviction, while moderates want to limit blowback on the elite and the status quo, and to confine anti-corruption measures to lower levels.

Ryzhkov also wonders if something along these lines is changing:

“It seems Putin himself wants to toughen something up.  At least the simultaneous start of the criminal case against Serdyukov and the announcement of creation of the Kremlin’s agency for battling corruption [PA anti-corruption directorate] shows that, possibly, they are really at least trying something to toughen the struggle against corruption.”

Zhitnoye in 2011 (photo: Press-Service of the President of Russia)

Zhitnoye in 2011 (photo: Press-Service of the President of Russia)

Speaking for his client, Serdyukov’s lawyer said he hasn’t been charged, and acknowledging any kind of guilt is “out of the question.”  Until now, he was a witness to property machinations involving Oboronservis and Slavyanka that occurred during his tenure as defense minister.

Just back on 15 November Serdyukov was named head of Rostekh’s obscure Federal Testing Research Center for Machinebuilding.

Long Road from Witness to Accused

Serdyukov in a Contemplative Moment

Serdyukov in a Contemplative Moment

It’s time to update the legal situation of former Defense Minister, military reformer, and “witness” to enormous corruption right under his nose, Anatoliy Serdyukov.

On these pages, it’s been said there’s no way Serdyukov can escape the prosecutors and jail.  That assessment may have been hasty. 

It reflects a vain hope that even Russia, with it’s unbelievable corruption and light regard for the rule of law, will indict and convict someone too smart and too financially savvy not to know what his “women’s battalion” was doing with MOD property and shares in the quasi-military companies of Oboronservis.

Someone who clearly knew how various schemes involving his brother-in-law and military property would look if unearthed.

In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, politics and clan membership trumps law and everything else.  Serdyukov betrayed one of his benefactors by jilting his wife, Viktor Zubkov’s daughter, but remains free.  It must be Putin’s political calculation that keeps him out of prison.

Still, Serdyukov hasn’t been a cooperative witness; he’s practically been a suspect if we take the tone of what GVSU SKR investigators have told the media.

Last week Kommersant reviewed the facts regarding Serdyukov in an article on the GVSU SKR’s decision to prolong its investigation surrounding Zhitnoye until January 17.

The Oboronservis corruption investigations swirl around Serdyukov, but haven’t been directly connected to him.  They will continue until March.

The Zhitnoye case bears the most direct involvement by Serdyukov, according to Kommersant.  The paper believes it’s still fully possible he could turn from witness to accused in this case.

Zhitnoye in Winter

Zhitnoye in Winter

The affair might have ended in September when Serdyukov’s brother-in-law Valeriy Puzikov and one of his partners returned this property worth 150 million rubles to two “autonomous departments” of the MOD.  The MOD would have thus suffered no injury.  But investigators in the case argued Zhitnoye didn’t go directly back to the MOD whose budget paid for improvements at the Volga resort.  Road and bridge construction and landscaping at Zhitnoye cost the MOD 15.5 million rubles.

Serdyukov's Brother-in-Law Valeriy Puzikov

Serdyukov’s Brother-in-Law Valeriy Puzikov

Puzikov fled Russia in February, so we may never hear what he would say if questioned.

GVSU investigators say Serdyukov’s former deputies and his other underlings say he personally supervised work on Zhitnoye, but the GVSU’s case is still directed against “unidentified MOD officials.”  Serdyukov signed paperwork about Zhitnoye, and visited 17 times, but doesn’t recall other circumstances about the property, so he remains a witness.

On Serdyukov’s personal involvement, Kommersant writes:

“That fact is obvious because the beneficiary of the former official’s [Serdyukov’s] malfeasance was his close relative Valeriy Puzikov.”

“So it’s early to say that Anatoliy Serdyukov is no longer of interest in the military investigation. Moreover, sources close to the investigation led us to believe that evidence gathered on the case could completely influence a change in the ex-minister’s procedural status.  However, a political decision is required for this.”

For his part, Serdyukov’s lawyer says the MOD suffered no damages, and he calls the entire investigation a waste of time and resources.

The other two “Serdyukov dacha” cases weren’t mentioned in this latest round of news.

However, Rossiyskaya gazeta wrote last week about a St. Petersburg property that reportedly long interested Serdyukov — the gardener’s house on the grounds of the Tauride Palace.  Apparently, unknown persons acquired it for the MOD in 2008, then it was sold by Yevgeniya Vasilyeva’s people to a shadowy firm formed just months earlier for 384 million rubles.  There is suspicion the buyer was under Puzikov’s control.

Gardener's House on Grounds of Tauride Palace (photo: Kommersant / Sergey Semenov)

Gardener’s House on Grounds of Tauride Palace (photo: Kommersant / Sergey Semenov)

Izvestiya reported that “power” ministry representatives (i.e. primarily of course the SKR) were called to the PA and ordered to stop broadcasting PR about investigations like those involving Serdyukov and Oboronservis, “which don’t have a chance of being cracked.”

The paper’s source in the PA said unwinding these scandals creates a “negative image” of the authorities in the public’s mind.  This official continued:

“While high-profile corruption cases will not be brought to court, they shouldn’t be so zealously publicized in the media.  No one has yet been punished, investigative actions go on, and the common man is already getting an impression about the impunity of criminals and powerlessness of the law enforcement organs.”

This conversation was conducted, first and foremost (but not exclusively), about Oboronservis, although not Serdyukov by name.

Another PA source said siloviki shouldn’t “air” criminal cases featuring highly-placed officials and serious damage to the nation’s budget.

Commenting on the Oboronservis scandals, MGU criminal law professor Vladimir Kommissarov describes not just criminal conspiracies but an entire “organized community” of corruption:

“There are surely forces not interested in the development of this criminal case — any criminal case of such a scale can attract other criminal cases.  It’s possible for one person to steal a million, but when we talk about dozens and hundreds of millions, then obviously not simply an organized group is at work, but an organized community.”

Izvestiya concludes that the state’s anti-corruption policy [such as it is] is based on the inevitability of punishment for offenders.  And this is what law enforcement is demanding from the PA.  Correspondingly, it should be possible to expect that all big corruption cases could end with real terms for all suspects.

But Serdyukov remains at most a suspect.  Perhaps investigators are starting to close in on him.  He didn’t really talk to them until March when confronted with property documents he had signed.

It still appears Serdyukov’s fate is controlled at the highest level.  Putin apparently told SKR chief Aleksandr Bastrykin early on that he didn’t want to send the former Defense Minister to jail.  But investigators are pressing forward.  If they change Serdyukov’s status from witness to accused, then perhaps Putin isn’t the complete master of this game.