MOSCOW -- Russian President Vladimir Putin fired his defense minister Tuesday amid a criminal investigation into suspected fraud and embezzlement involving military assets.
Mr. Putin announced his decision to dismiss Anatoly Serdyukov two weeks after the federal Investigative Committee said it was probing the possible "fraudulent sale of real estate, land plots and stocks" belonging to the military. The investigation apparently already showed the equivalent of more than $100 million in losses to the government, the committee said.
The case involves Oboronservice, a company affiliated with the nation's defense ministry, and Yevgeniya Vasilyeva, a close associate of Mr. Serdyukov's who once headed the ministry's property department. Investigators say military assets, including real estate, were sold at significantly reduced prices to "business structures affiliated with Oboronservice" and that, in addition, "many real estate objects were bought with money stolen from the same" company.
Mr. Putin said Mr. Serdyukov would be replaced by Sergei Shoigu, who was appointed Moscow regional governor six months ago after serving 20 years as the nation's emergency situations minister.
"You know about the recent circumstances unfortunately surrounding the defense minister," Mr. Putin said in televised remarks. "In order to create the necessary conditions for an objective investigation, ... I have decided to dismiss ... Serdyukov and appoint another person to this job."
Mr. Serdyukov was appointed by Mr. Putin in 2007 to oversee military reforms. Those included dismissal of several hundred generals and 200,000 officers and securing of billions of dollars from the state budget to restructure the armed forces.
Mr. Putin, who appeared on television with Mr. Shoigu, commended the reforms overseen by Mr. Serdyukov and expressed hope that the new minister "can continue everything positive accomplished in recent years and ... carry out the grand plans for modifying the army's weaponry."
Analysts varied in their views of whether Mr. Serdyukov effectively reformed the military. Some said Mr. Serdyukov, a former furniture salesman and tax collector, faced an uphill battle from the day he was appointed defense minister because many experts alleged that he got his job by being the son-in-law of Viktor Zubkov, who was then prime minister in Mr. Putin's government and now is chairman of Gazprom, the giant state-controlled natural gas monopoly.
"He has successfully overseen a massive restructuring of the armed forces management, making a brigade as the main combat unit and creating a united strategic command controlling the land, air and sea forces," said Igor Korotchenko, head of the defense ministry's Supervision Council and editor in chief of the National Defense monthly journal.
"He radically increased by 2 1/2 to 3 times the servicemen's wages, and he secured 20 trillion rubles (about $600 billion) in state funds to qualitatively upgrade the army's weaponry and equipment," Mr. Korotchenko said in an interview.
Retired Col. Viktor Baranets, a former adviser to the chief of general staff and now defense analyst with the popular daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, said Mr. Serdyukov's reforms may have been well-intentioned, but they included numerous mistakes.world