MOSCOW -- Ripples of scandal are spreading in Russia's Far East, where, auditors say, $472 million in construction financing was misallocated ahead of a government summit meeting. About $200 million in missing funds have led to firings in Russia's space industry. And corruption in the Defense Ministry has figured prominently in Russia's news cycles since Nov. 6, leaving the fate of its former minister uncertain.
In the past, President Vladimir V. Putin has always been reluctant to expel or prosecute high-level officials, despite widespread complaints about corruption. So the mushrooming scandals are unusual, raising questions about what has changed.
There is little doubt that the Kremlin has been battered by opposition campaigns highlighting official corruption. Political strategists, searching for ideas powerful enough to consolidate the country around Mr. Putin, may seize on fighting corruption as a Kremlin effort, and recent steps hint at a populist push to expose and punish guilty officials.
"A tough, uncompromising battle with corruption has begun," announced Arkady Mamontov, a pro-government television host, in a much-hyped documentary titled "Corruption" that, though it was broadcast close to midnight on Tuesday, attracted nearly 20 percent of the television audience. "In the course of the next months, we will see many interesting things. The main thing is that we should not stand aside and watch what is happening, but take an active part in it."
Political observers have watched the anticorruption drive curiously, debating where it might be headed, and especially whether, for the first time since Mr. Putin came to power, high-ranking officials would face prosecution. On Monday, the newspaper Vedomosti declared that Moscow was witnessing the beginning of a "cleansing of the elite" -- a flushing out of a political system that lacks other mechanisms of renewal, like competitive elections. Others were skeptical that the effort would reach beyond midlevel officials.
"It cannot become an overall ideology, because Putin's system is dependent on corruption -- on corruption as a form of management and a guarantee of loyalty from officials," said Aleksei Navalny, a blogger and anticorruption activist. "They will not kick out from under themselves the stool that they are standing on."
Last week, it seemed the Kremlin had not decided how far to take its anticorruption drive. On Wednesday, Russian news agencies reported that the highest-level official to be implicated -- the former defense minister Anatoly E. Serdyukov -- had been offered a comfortable new job as an adviser to the director of Rostekhnologii, a company that produces and exports high-tech equipment.
The news prompted waves of angry commentary from those who had hoped Mr. Serdyukov would be prosecuted, including Adm. Vladimir Komoyedov, who heads the Defense Committee in the lower house of Parliament.
"There is a signal in the navy that means 'man overboard,' " he said. "We all thought the former minister had fallen overboard, and his fate would be sorrowful. But it turned out he was still inside the submarine."
Others said it was more evidence that Mr. Putin does not give up his own. By way of commentary, the newspaper Kommersant posted a still from "The Godfather" in which the Mafia don embraced one of his lieutenants, along with a quotation: "Friendship is everything."
Officials the next day denied that Mr. Serdyukov had been offered the job. Asked about the case at a news conference, Mr. Putin confirmed that, but said it would not be a problem if Mr. Serdyukov was given a new position, since he has not been formally accused of wrongdoing.
"There is a generally accepted practice that a person is innocent as long as a court has not proven his guilt," he said. "If he wants to gain work anywhere, I don't think that we should prevent that. He has the right to work."
The Kremlin faces a dilemma in resolving Mr. Serdyukov's case. Russians largely supported Mr. Serdyukov's dismissal, and some speculated that the anticorruption effort was bolstering Mr. Putin's approval ratings. The firing was particularly popular among prosperous urban males -- a population that has turned away from Mr. Putin in recent years, and which he is no doubt eager to win back. But a prosecution would shine light on a deep and pervasive flaw of Mr. Putin's system, with unpredictable consequences.
Mr. Navalny said he was "cautiously optimistic" that information about corruption had begun to emerge into public view, even if high-level officials were not punished.
As they broadened the investigation into the Defense Ministry, federal investigators have reopened an embezzlement investigation singling out a Moscow tax official close to Mr. Serdyukov, Vedomosti reported Wednesday, citing unnamed law enforcement officials.
The tax official, Olga Stepanova, was also at the center of a notorious case: the lawyer Sergei L. Magnitsky accused her of embezzling $230 million from the Russian Treasury by filing false corporate tax returns. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Magnitsky was detained on tax evasion charges. He died in pretrial detention in 2009, at the age of 37, and the authorities have consistently denied that Mr. Magnitsky's allegations had any merit.
"Factually, this looks like an acknowledgment of relatively obvious things," Mr. Navalny said. "I am happy that these facts are coming out, and that it will now be harder to escape from accusations, including ours."
There will almost certainly be more corruption cases in the coming months. One especially eager official is the deputy prime minister, Dmitri O. Rogozin, who wrote on Twitter: "I will insist that corruption in defense procurement will be equivalent to treason! Have they lost their fear? We will find them!"
Sergei V. Stepashin, the chairman of the federal accounting chamber, Russia's main auditing body, told the news service Interfax on Wednesday that a trillion rubles a year, or around $31.5 billion, is being siphoned from Russia's budget in the course of state procurement -- about one-fourteenth of the entire budget, he estimated.
Mr. Mamontov's documentary sketched out one scheme that made this possible: go-betweens at the Defense Ministry, he said, would buy low-quality coal at rock-bottom prices, then resell it through shell companies back to the ministry at a tenfold markup.
He then swung his focus to one person suspected of being a culprit: Yevgeniya Vasilieva, a 33-year-old lawyer at the ministry who was shown in photographs carousing in a silver sequined dress. The camera lingered over Ms. Vasilieva's 13-room, $10 million Moscow apartment and five boxes that held $3 million worth of jewelry.
After the show was broadcast, Igor Bunin, the director of the Center for Political Technologies in Moscow, said he believed fighting corruption would "become one of the elements of the regime's ideology," and that more films -- and more prosecutions -- were on the way.
"You need to understand that when you start such a battle with corruption, it touches the whole political class and, of course, leads to direct political consequences, a new political system," Mr. Bunin said in an interview with the radio station Kommersant FM.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.