May 23, 2024

Institute for the Study of War: Russian purge of senior defense officials continues

Institute for the Study of War

The Kremlin is pursuing a concerted effort to remove senior Russian defense officials and has likely expanded this effort to senior officers commanding Russian combat operations in Ukraine. The Russian Investigative Committee announced on May 23 the arrests of Russian Deputy Chief of the General Staff and Head of its Main Communications Directorate Lieutenant General Vadim Shamarin and Head of the Russian Ministry of Defense’s (MoD) Department for State Procurement, Vladimir Verteletsky. Shamarin is accused of accepting a bribe of at least 36 million rubles (about $392,000), and two defendants in the Russian telecommunications industry have agreed to testify against him. Verteletsky is accused of corruption and accepting a large bribe with total damages of 70 million rubles (about $763,000). Five senior Russian MoD officials and former military commanders have been arrested on corruption charges since the arrest of Russian Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov on April 24, and a Russian insider source previously claimed that six more MoD officials plan to resign following former Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s removal from the MoD. The Kremlin is likely using the guise of corruption charges as an excuse to hide the real reasons for ousting specific individuals from the MoD who have fallen from favor, as ISW has recently assessed.

Russian ultranationalist milbloggers also claimed that the Russian MoD dismissed the commander of the 20th Combined Arms Army (Moscow Military District [MMD], formerly Western Military District [WMD]), Lieutenant General Sukhrab Akhmedov. ISW is unable to confirm Akhmedov’s removal, but claims of his removal are notable as this would be the first removal of an officer actively commanding Russian forces in Ukraine as a part of the most recent round of dismissals. The 20th CAA is currently heavily committed to offensive operations in the Lyman direction and failed to achieve significant tactical gains in the area during the Winter-Spring 2024 offensive on the Kharkiv-Luhansk axis. The milbloggers also directly connected Akhmedov’s arrest with significant command issues in Ukraine, referencing their prior complaints about Akhmedov by name for his role in commanding attritional Russian assaults near Vuhledar, Donetsk Oblast in winter 2022–2023 when he commanded the 155th Naval Infantry Brigade or his role in Russian forces suffering significant casualties due to a Ukrainian rear area strike in summer 2023.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Kremlin is pursuing a concerted effort to remove senior Russian defense officials and has likely expanded this effort to senior officers commanding Russian combat operations in Ukraine.
  • Russian border guards removed buoys in Estonian waters of the Narva River, which demarcates the Estonian-Russian international border, likely to set conditions to further question maritime borders and test NATO resolve.
  • Select US officials are reportedly pressing for a reconsideration of the White House’s current policy prohibiting Ukraine from using US-provided weapons to strike within Russia.
  • Polish Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Pawel Wronski stated on May 23 that Poland is considering using its air defense to protect Ukrainian airspace against Russian strikes.
  • Ukraine’s Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) conducted a series of drone strikes against Russian defense industrial facilities in the Republic of Tatarstan on May 23.
  • Iranian leaders have used the occasion of President Ebrahim Raisi’s funeral events to emphasize close ties with Armenia even as tensions between Yerevan and Moscow continue to increase.
  • Ukrainian forces advanced near Lukyantsi and Kreminna, and Russian forces advanced near Berestove, Chasiv Yar, Avdiivka, Donetsk City, and Velyka Novosilka.

  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) proposed applying regular military punishments to volunteers, likely as part of the MoD’s continued formalization efforts.

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