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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ustinov Fired as Kremlin Aides Look to 2008

Vladimir Ustinov, the Kremlin's long-serving chief prosecutor, was unexpectedly fired Friday as senior aides jockeyed for position ahead of the 2008 presidential race.

Ustinov's dismissal may reflect President Vladimir Putin's frustration with the prosecutor general for acting on his own and making public statements about government corruption, officials and pundits said.

It may also have been hatched by First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, a Putin confidant and 2008 contender, some analysts speculated.

For now, the circumstances surrounding the dismissal are murky.

In his letter of his resignation and in Putin's accompanying letter, both sent to the Federation Council late Thursday, no reasons were given.

What is known is that on Friday the Federation Council voted 140-0 to honor Ustinov's and Putin's requests ending Ustinov's tenure. There were two abstentions.

One senator, Valery Sudarenko of the Kaluga region, inquired why Ustinov was leaving his post. Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov said Ustinov, 54, had simply decided to retire.

Mironov insisted that "no politics" were involved in Ustinov's resignation. He hinted that it might have involved a personal conflict between Putin and Ustinov, Kommersant reported.

Ustinov was not present at the Federation Council vote, which took four minutes to complete.

His dismissal comes a year after the Federation Council overwhelmingly approved Putin's request to extend Ustinov's service for five years.

Mironov said that he expected Putin to announce Ustinov's successor in June and that senators would approve the nominee.

Ustinov was summoned to Putin's Novo-Ogaryovo estate outside Moscow at 11 p.m. Thursday to be notified that the Federation Council would vote on his resignation, Moskovsky Komsomolets reported.

On Friday, Putin officially met with Ustinov to thank him for his work, according to a one-sentence statement posted on the Kremlin's web site.

The Prosecutor General's Office announced in a statement Friday that Ustinov's first deputy, Yury Biryukov, had been named acting prosecutor general.

The shakeup at the Prosecutor General's Office follows several other terminations, including those of security and law enforcement officials.

Putin's spokesman, Alexei Gromov, observed that Ustinov's resignation was part of a broader effort to improve the country's law enforcement bodies.

"The decision to relieve the prosecutor general from his duties is linked to the president's move to carry out a reshuffle," Gromov told Itar-Tass. "The law enforcement agencies' actions to ensure law and order in the country and fight against corruption will continue."

Ustinov played a key role in the legal onslaught against Yukos; that operation was directed by deputy chief of staff Igor Sechin.

Sechin is thought to be head of the clan of the so-called siloviki, which includes Ustinov. The ties binding that clan together were strengthened in 2003, when Ustinov's son, Dmitry, married Sechin's daughter, Inga.

Ustinov's dismissal deals a blow to the siloviki.

The former prosecutor general was seen as one of Putin's most loyal lieutenants.

But Ustinov had also recently developed a habit of stepping out of line. Most recently, the Prosecutor General's Office took the unprecedented step last month of arresting Alexei Barinov, the governor of the Nenets autonomous district, without consulting Putin, Kommersant reported.

The arrest, plus an investigation into some owners of shares of the pipeline monopoly Transneft, showed "excessive independence," a Kremlin-connected official was quoted as saying by Kommersant.

Putin was also reportedly reluctant to leave Ustinov in power after his term ends in 2008.

Olga Kryshtanovskaya, head of the Center for the Study of the Elite at the Russian Academy of Sciences, attributed Ustinov's dismissal to his tendency to preach.

Speaking at a May 15 gathering of senior law enforcement officials, Ustinov publicly lamented the prevalence of corruption and organized crime.

"We contemplate all this, write reports, put sham figures on paper and believe that it will last eternally," Ustinov said at the time. "The criminals are becoming increasingly impudent, gaining strength and further permeating state law enforcement institutions."

Kryshtanovskaya called these remarks "scandalous" given Putin's effort to remake Russia's image internationally.

Viktor Ilyukhin, deputy head of the State Duma's Security Committee, said Ustinov had been doomed since Putin made the fight against corruption a central plank of his May 10 state-of-the-nation address.

"Putin needed to sacrifice someone big in law enforcement because firing small-time officials no longer convinces the public," Ilyukhin said.

Still, the prosecutor general's termination came as a surprise, Ilyukhin said.

Ustinov was initially associated with President Boris Yeltsin, having risen through the ranks in the 1990s and served as acting prosecutor general for several months while Yeltsin was still in office. Alexei Makarkin of the Center for Political Technologies said this had left him vulnerable.

Putin nominated Ustinov as prosecutor general in March 2000, shortly after winning his first term.

Markarkin added that the speed with which Ustinov was removed indicated that whoever orchestrated his dismissal was worried it might be foiled, Makarkin added.

Ustinov is likely to be named to a ceremonial post, such as Russia's European Union envoy, Makarkin said.