Russia just dismissed the head of the
air force, Vladimir Mikhailov. The official reason was old age, but rumors have
been circulating for months that Mikhailov had been caught stealing, with air
force funds mysteriously ending up in a private bank account. Mikhailov was 63,
while the official retirement age for officers is 60. But Russian president
Vladimir Putin had extended that three times, and had also sent in an auditor
from the Federal Tax Service.
Russia has long had problems with corruption in the
military. It got worse after the Cold War ended, and the Soviet Union
disappeared, in 1991. Facing massive downsizing (because the government had so
little money), many Russian officers scrambled for ways to steal money, or
assets, before they got the boot. In the last few years Putin has made vigorous
efforts to root out corrupt officials. With a limited supply of capable, and
trustworthy auditors, Putin has had to take one government operation at a time.
A few have been found clean, but most have suffered numerous resignations,
dismissals or arrests of senior officials once the auditors had been around for
The audits in the armed forces also give Putin an
opportunity to get rid of a lot of generals and admirals who are, for want of a
better word, looking at the past. Putin wants to upgrade and reform the
military, but he has encountered a lot of resistance from senior officers.
Dumping corrupt ones enables Putin to promote more agreeable, and hopefully
more honest, officers.