The second arrest for corruption of a senior military official yesterday worsened the biggest scandal in years in the Russian Defense Ministry. The Investigative Committee announced the arrest of the Ministry’s chief of staff, Lieutenant General Yuri Kuznetsov for “receiving a bribe of an especially large scale.” The arrest came just two days after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the dismissal of his veteran ally Sergei Shoigu as Defense Minister, and three weeks after the arrest of Deputy Minister Timur Ivanov. For the crime of which they are accused, both could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.

According to the investigation, between 2021 and 2023, Kuznetsov received a bribe “from business representatives for committing some actions in their favor” while he was head of Directorate 8 of the General Staff of the Russian Army, explained yesterday the Investigative Committee, which supervises and investigates major crimes in Russia.

The general began directing Directorate number 8 in May 2010, in an appointment endorsed by the then Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev. This body directs the Service for the Protection of State Secrets and provides the Ministry of Defense with the information necessary to carry out the administration of the Armed Forces. He held that position until May 2023, when he was placed in charge of the General Directorate of Personnel of the Ministry of Defense.

In an interview in November 2018, Kuznetsov himself explained to the newspaper Krásnaya Zvezdá that Directorate 8 was in charge of the Service for the Defense of State Secrets and that it worked to guarantee the security of information, to detect, prevent and eliminate computer attacks against the systems of the Ministry of Defense.

According to the VChK-OGPU Telegram channel, the arrest occurred at his home on the morning of Monday, May 13. Investigators searched Kuznetsov’s properties and seized more than one hundred million rubles (just over one million euros), gold coins, collector’s watches and other luxury items.

With Kuznetsov, 55, there are already five detainees in this scandal, starting with Deputy Minister Ivanov, taken into custody on April 23.

The Investigative Committee accuses Ivanov of having received a bribe in the amount of 1,185 million rubles (12 million euros at the current exchange rate). Investigators believe that he illegally assisted several Ministry of Defense contracting companies and that, in return, they carried out free construction work and repairs on his properties. Timur Ivanov denied his guilt before a court that ordered him provisional prison. One day after his arrest he was removed from his position.

Two businessmen are also involved in this case, Alexánder Fomín, founder of the company Olimcitystroi, and Sergei Borodin, who are also under arrest.

According to the Tass agency, it could be the testimony of one of them that led to Kuznetsov’s arrest. And also that of the fifth defendant, a businessman from the Krasnodar region named Lev Martirosyan, suspected of bribing Kuznetsov.

Last Sunday Vladimir Putin, who took office for a fifth term as president of Russia on May 7, sent the composition of the new Russian Government to Parliament. It included the dismissal of his close ally Sergei Shoigu as Minister of Defense, and the appointment of Andrei Belousov, an economist and until now deputy prime minister, as his replacement. Shoigu was appointed secretary of the Security Council.

The change has been interpreted in several ways: as a concession to the most warmongering sectors, which for months have criticized the lack of progress in the campaign against Ukraine; or as an attempt to boost the war economy given the certain possibility that the conflict could be prolonged.

Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters yesterday that the Kremlin does not consider this change to have demoted Shoigu. He assured that the new position “is of great importance for the country, with a large volume of tasks, in direct contact with the president,” and recalled that Shoigu will also be vice president of the Military-Industrial Commission and will supervise the work of the Federal Service of Technical-military cooperation.

For his part, at a time when Russia plans to increase its Defense budget to 30% of government spending, Belousov’s priority will be to refine purchases, improve the war economy and boost the military industry to achieve success in the battlefield.

Peskov assured yesterday that in the Kremlin there is no fear that the changes in the Ministry of Defense and the arrest of several senior officials could disorganize the management of the troops deployed in Ukraine.