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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Commander Of Interior Ministry Troops Fired

President Boris Yeltsin has issued a decree firing the commander of Russia's powerful Interior Ministry troops, Leonty Shevtsov, ministry officials said Monday.

The 250,000-member Interior Ministry troops is a heavily armed and well-equipped fighting force. Before his dismissal last month, Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov was widely criticized for turning the force into a private army.

The presidential press service declined to confirm Shevtsov's dismissal, but an officer in the troops' central command said his office had been informed about the firing. "We are awaiting a presidential decree," said the officer, who did not identify himself.

Interfax, citing unidentified "well-informed sources," said last week that Interior Ministry chief of staff Pavel Maslov has been appointed as Shevtsov's replacement. Maslov briefly served as acting interior minister immediately after Kulikov's dismissal and is believed to be a protege of the sacked minister.

Interfax also said Yeltsin has already signed an official decree transferring Shevtsov to the Emergency Situations Ministry. An aide to Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu would not confirm that report Monday.

Shevtsov's dismissal comes just a few days after newly appointed Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin promised a slew of high level dismissals in the ministry.

According to reports in the Russian media, Yeltsin fired Kulikov because he was angered by evidence of corruption among the Interior Ministry troops' top brass.

The Military Prosecutor's Office is currently probing allegations that senior officers of the Interior Ministry troops have embezzled some 350 million rubles [$57.5 million].

Stepashin last week pledged to fire Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Durbazhev, who, according to Kommersant Daily newspaper, has been questioned by military prosecutors in connection with the alleged embezzlement.

However, Shevtsov's sacking appeared part of a push by the new minister to appoint his own team to senior posts, and was not linked to the corruption investigation.

A spokesman the Military Prosecutor's Office, which is conducting the probe, said Shevtsov is not a suspect. Shevtsov assumed command of the Interior Ministry troops last August, after the alleged embezzlement took place.

Shevtsov "represents no interest," the spokesman said. "He is not featuring in our probe."

Prior to his appointment to the Interior Ministry, Shevtsov had made a career at the Defense Ministry.

A graduate of three military academies, Shevtsov served as chief of staff of the federal forces in Chechnya. He was later given command of the Russian contingent serving with the UN peacekeeping forces in Bosnia.

Analysts said Stepashin and Shevtsov both share the view that the Interior Ministry troops, whose personnel strength has already been halved in the past five years, should undergo further cuts to total less than 250,000.

But Stepashin is bringing his own retinue of loyalists to the Interior Ministry and Shevtsov does not fit in, said Yury Lebedev of the Center for Political Military Studies. "Neither his [Shevtsov's] efficiency as commander nor the similarity of their points of view matter. He just doesn't belong to the new team," Lebedev said.