Russian deputy defense minister’s arrest and its implications – interview

Заступник міністра оборони Росії Тимур Іванов, затриманий за підозрою в отриманні великих хабарів, на судовому засіданні в Москві
Заступник міністра оборони Росії Тимур Іванов, затриманий за підозрою в отриманні великих хабарів, на судовому засіданні в Москві

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov has been arrested. Officially, he has been charged with bribery, but unofficially there’s talk of treason and Kremlin power struggles.

We interviewed Roman Anin, the Editor-in-Chief at Russian independent investigative journalism outlet Vazhnye Istorii, hoping to clarify the context and implications of Ivanov’s arrest.

NV: How influential was Ivanov in [Russian dictator Vladimir] Putin’s power structure? 

Anin: He’s a big shot. Not only because he holds the position of Deputy Defense Minister responsible for key areas, including construction and many others. But he’s also an important person in the informal system of relations, which spans not only the Ministry of Defense (MoD) but also Putin’s entourage. Because he has been considered [Russian Defense Minister Sergei] Shoigu’s “wallet” [nominal holder of assets and funds belonging to Shoigu] for many years (since 2012, so over 12 years).

He worked together with Shoigu in the Moscow regional government. Later, he moved to the MoD to head Oboronstroy, a joint-stock company for defense and space sector construction, and then he was tapped Shoigu’s deputy. Being one of the most corrupt ministerial deputies, his corruption was overt and blatant.

What’s more, he’s also a representative of the glamorous Moscow coterie with numerous wives and mistresses traveling around the world. I was told some crazy things how his wives could book private jets, fly to luxury boutiques in Paris, arrange for private shopping session, and buy jewelry worth half a million dollars. All this, of course, was known to everyone in the Kremlin.

And that’s why the version that he was arrested for corruption is untenable. Two unrelated sources close to the FSB [Russian Federal Security Service] told me he had actually been arrested on treason charges. It’s not a fact that he’ll be officially charged with treason, but this is exactly the reason why he was detained. And it was Putin, when he was convinced that Ivanov was a traitor, who gave the go-ahead for his arrest.

Read also: Deputy Defense Minister's arrest marks Russian MoD's gravest scandal in more than a decade - British Intel

NV: How does that work? If there’s an accusation of treason, but it’s not officially announced, he’ll be tried for corruption. Why not charge with treason openly?

Anin: As I explained, it’s a very humiliating and damaging narrative for Russian authorities to accuse a deputy defense minister of a warring country of high treason. Moreover, we don’t know the corpus delicti and its facts. I don’t know he is thought to have betrayed the Russian state. Did he send any information to Ukraine? If he did, I’m very sorry that Russia found out about it.

But I assume, most likely, it’s about who his many mistresses and wives met with abroad, who they talked to, who they passed some information on to. And Ivanov himself, considering how much he had stolen, could very well have hoped to get off this gradually sinking submarine.

NV: How does it affect Shoigu? What does it mean for everyone else involved?

Anin: They’re in shock and panicking because Ivanov has been considered a privileged official for these 12 years (in fact, more).

I know for sure that Russian investigative bodies have had compromising materials against him since at least 2017. At that time, I was a Novaya Gazeta special correspondent and lived in Moscow. I met with a detective who told me directly they had managed to collect materials against Ivanov, but the country’s leadership, particularly Shoigu, didn’t let them act on these materials.

That is, everyone knew about everything. But why was he arrested now? The thing is that any dictatorship... People in Russia, in particular those in power, for some reason think they are special and privileged. But in general, there’s an axiom. Any dictatorship develops as follows. Repression begins with a very wide range of individuals, and first they throw students shouting “no to war” into prisons, or grandmothers protesting against something, or random people who repost something. But gradually this repression involves a higher circle of people. And, of course, they inevitably lead to people from the closest entourage.

This is how it works in all dictatorships.

The Russians forgot about it. They were in these blissful illusions that this is a glamorous coterie, that it won’t concern them, that if they shout, “for the Special Military Operation [in Ukraine],” no one will dare to touch them. But no. We see that an axiom is an axiom, and it has no exceptions.

Such a “hunting season” has now kicked off. I’m sure Ivanov is just the first head that rolled from this closest entourage, and many more will follow.

Read also: Defense Minister Shoigu in Sevastopol to combat drone attacks on Russian Black Sea Fleet

NV: There is a conspiracy theory that all this is another element in the internal power struggle within the Kremlin. You mentioned that “someone convinced Putin,” “the confrontation between the FSB and the MoD.” How would you comment on this?

Anin: They’re not conspiracy theories. This is how the Russian government is organized, there are many clans that hate each other and have been at war with each other for many years.

If we look at the situation with Ivanov, probably, if we consider it in terms of the clan struggle, it’s a blow by the [Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai] Patrushev clan against the Shoigu one.

I think this slap to the Russian MoD has many goals. First, it’s clear that Ivanov will be replaced by someone who’s not beholden to Shoigu, placed in a position that promises huge monetary benefits. And besides that, I also think (this is just my guess) that they’re preparing for bad news from Ukraine.

If you look at the propaganda rhetoric recently, it’s very bravura and ecstatic, suggesting that victory will now literally fall into their lap, which, in my experience, suggests things might go wrong for them.

All this will have to be somehow explained, this bad news they’ll face. The best explanation would be that they were infiltrated by generals who didn’t provide the troops with everything they needed. Therefore, we’ve launched this purge, the fight against corruption, especially since there’s a demand for it in the army and in society.

Thus, they kill two birds with one stone: showing that Putin is actually fighting corruption, which is ridiculous, but at the same time they’re clearing the way for one of the clans.

NV: Let’s then try to speculate a bit on the topic of whether it’s possible to imagine Ivanov as a Ukrainian agent?

Anin: Sure, why not? I don’t know him personally, but if he’s an intelligent person, he realizes that in the long run, the war unleashed by Putin leads to a disaster for Russia and for himself. Being subject to sanctions, any Russian official understands that he has nowhere to flee except the “resorts” in North Korea or “sanatoriums” in Iran. Why wouldn’t these people think about their future, about the future of their wives, especially those who like to fly to Paris and buy jewelry in luxury boutiques, and arrange a “safety net” so that they’re accepted in Ukraine (and, in their opinion, in the West as well) if the [Russian] regime falls?

It’s quite likely that the HUR or other Ukrainian special services would have succeeded in recruiting the Russian deputy defense minister, it would simply be a grand special operation and a grand success. It doesn’t look like something incredible.

But once again, I don’t know what exactly he’s being accused of. And when they say “treason,” whether it’s actual treason or not... We know how Russia imprisons people for treason. You can simply say “Slava Ukraini” [“Glory to Ukraine”] and you’ll be called a traitor and imprisoned for 25 years. I don’t know this case’s corpus delicti.

But to imagine theoretically that a top MoD official, realizing the catastrophic nature of this war and the grim nature of his and the country’s future, decided to help Ukraine to break Putin’s regime, is plausible, why not. Moreover, he’s very corrupt, and such people are easy to recruit or otherwise put pressure on.

Read also: Bild gives very accurate description of Shoigu's ‘golf carts’ on battlefield

NV: I’d like to go back to Shoigu. What future do you see for the Russian defense minister, who has now lost his “wallet”?

Anin: Here I’m at odds with my sources. I see Shoigu as “canned food.” During [Soviet dictator Joseph] Stalin’s repressions, when convicts escaped from prison, they took canned food with them, to have something to eat in the Siberian taiga. And it seems to me that Shoigu represents a kind of “canned food” that you don’t value and that can be eaten when needed—to show the Russian people who is to blame for the failure in Ukraine or who is to blame for everything going wrong with the military. That’s why they keep him around.

My sources disagree. They say he’ll remain in his post because he’s a key pillar in Russian politics. Let’s see who’s right. I think it will be clear soon, in about half a year, or maybe even less, and we’ll see Shoigu’s fate.

NV: If, as you said, the Patrushev clan has delivered a blow to the MoD, how will Shoigu respond?

Anin: There will be no answer because Shoigu is now a very weak piece in Russian politics, and he has nothing to respond with. All he can do is watch what’s happening and beg for mercy from Putin, pleading for a fate better than that of Ivanov’s.

He just has no way to respond. He’s not a major player now. He’s not in charge of the war, he doesn’t have any leverage (which sounds strange for the defense minister). In this regard, even either [Russian oligarchs Arkady and Boris] Rotenberg [brother] is much more influential because these oligarchs now have their own private armies. In terms of power, Shoigu may be slightly superior to [Security Council Deputy Chairman and former Russian President] Dmitry Medvedev, who is known for his outrageous statements and “keen” mind, but he’s not far from him. He is what you could say “a lame duck,” in U.S. political terms, with very unclear prospects.

Once again, I believe he’ll be thrown to the wolves, but my sources disagree. Let’s see who’s right.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine