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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ivanov Fires Back at Prosecutors

Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has signed orders on how military officers should handle investigators from the Military Prosecutor's Office, the Defense Ministry said Monday.

The orders appear aimed at shielding Ivanov's reputation as he positions himself as a possible successor to President Vladimir Putin and at boosting his popularity among the officers, analysts said.

The orders "elevate the legal culture of the servicemen," "make clear their legal rights and duties" and "provide advice" during contacts with investigators, according to a statement on the Defense Ministry web site. They also require that ministry lawyers be present when servicemen are questioned by investigators and oblige them to actively intervene if they believe servicemen's legal interests are being violated.

Ivanov is apparently flexing his muscles in reaction to a year of harsh criticism from the Military Prosecutor's Office about the state of the armed forces. The criticism peaked after prosecutors learned in January that a conscript, Andrei Sychyov, had suffered a brutal hazing on New Year's Eve that had forced doctors to amputate his legs and genitals.

Ivanov and the chief military prosecutor, Alexander Savenkov, have publicly exchanged barbs, with the ministry accusing prosecutors of trying to politicize a few hazings cases, and prosecutors accusing the ministry of failing to deal with a growth of crime in the ranks.

The conflict signals a schism in Putin's retinue that is increasingly becoming public as Ivanov's star rises.

Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov, who also commands the military prosecutors, and Igor Sechin, a deputy head of the presidential administration, are behind the attacks on Ivanov, two analysts said. Ustinov's son, Dmitry, is married to Sechin's daughter, Inga.

"Under a media attack prompted by the Sychyov case, Ivanov ... desperately needs to show that he is a strong leader capable of protecting the army," said Alexei Makarkin, an analyst with the Center for Political Technologies.

Ivanov regularly places fourth on a list of the country's most-trusted politicians -- after Putin, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov -- according to monthly surveys of 1,600 people taken by the independent Levada Center. Neither Shoigu nor Luzhkov is regarded as a possible 2008 candidates.

The other top possible candidate, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, placed 10th in the latest survey, taken in March.

Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank, said that Ivanov, the country's first civilian defense minister, was also trying to improve his standing among the officers by handing them more powers to deal with inquisitive prosecutors in their units.