Leadership: Russia Cleans Out The High Command


May 15, 2007: 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 a while.

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.


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