Putin dismisses Russian defence minister

The Russian president has publicly dismissed his defence minister after a corruption scandal.

Russian president Vladimir Putin. Picture: AFP

MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly dismissed his defence minister on Tuesday after a multi-million dollar corruption scandal and appointed a longtime ally to oversee military reforms.

Putin announced on television that he had fired Anatoly Serdyukov, who had become a liability due to an investigation into the sale of ministry assets at suspiciously low prices.

Serdyukov's replacement in a job which had been long eyed by rivals, former emergencies minister Sergei Shoigu, is untainted by corruption and popular among Russians. Shoigu has also proved immensely loyal and shown few signs of political ambitions in nearly two decades in senior posts.

Putin's announcement made at a meeting with Shoigu appeared designed to show he will crackdown on high-level corruption in his new, six-year presidential term.

"Taking into consideration the situation around the Defence Ministry, in order to create conditions for an objective investigation into all matters, I have decided to free Defence Minister Serdyukov of his post," Putin said, sitting across the table from Shoigu at a state residence outside Moscow.

The defence minister wields immense power in Russia, channeling billions of dollars every year through the country's powerful defense industry, the second largest arms exporter in the world. Putin has promised to spend 23 trillion roubles ($726.30 billion) on the military by the end of the decade.

Putin said at the televised meeting that the new minister must continue "grandiose plans for the reform of the army".

Russian investigators raided the offices of Defence Ministry firm Oboronservis last month and opened an investigation into the company on suspicion that it had sold assets to commercial firms at a loss of nearly $100 million.

The investigation also raised questions about Serdyukov's relationship with a former top female military bureaucrat, whose apartment was found to contain dozens of expensive paintings, rare antiques and more than 100 valuable rings.

A Russian tabloid newspaper with connections with the country's security personnel reported that Serdyukov was in the apartment as well when the raid began.

A one-time furniture salesman, Serdyukov owed much of his career to the influence of his father-in-law Viktor Zubkov, a former prime minister and trusted associate of Putin.

Serdyukov's control over Russia's arms budget had earned him enemies among ambitious Kremlin figures, including Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin who oversees the country's defence industry, government sources say.

His military reforms, which reorganised troops, cut the number of officers by more than 100,000 and exposed high level corruption, also made him disliked in the ranks.