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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Longtime Air Force Commander Gets the Boot

Air Force chief Vladimir Mikhailov and one of his key deputies, Colonel General Boris Cheltsov, head of the Air Force Main Staff, have been dismissed from their posts, an unidentified Defense Ministry official told Interfax on Thursday.

The source told Interfax that Army General Mikhailov, 63, had been replaced by one of his deputies, Colonel General Alexander Zelin.

Lieutenant General Igor Khvorov, formerly the commander of long-range aviation -- the airborne component of the military's strategic nuclear triad -- assumed the post of head of the Main Staff.

A number of media outlets interpreted the shake-up in the Air Force as an attempt by recently appointed Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov to remove the military's old guard.

As commander-in-chief, only President Vladimir Putin has the power to fire senior commanders.

A Kremlin spokeswoman said, however, that she was unaware whether Putin had dismissed either Mikhailov, who had been in charge of the Air Force since 2002, or Cheltsov. The spokeswoman declined to be identified in accordance with Kremlin policy.

Air Force spokesman Colonel Alexander Drobyshevsky said he had "no official confirmation of the change of command." He declined to elaborate.

Defense Ministry spokeswoman Olga Detyuchenko declined to comment on the Interfax report.

Since Mikhailov turned 60, the maximum age for active-duty senior commanders, Putin has extended his service on three occasions.

Mikhailov's star began to fade with the arrival of Serdyukov, formerly head of the Federal Tax Service. Shortly after his appointment in February, speculation began to swirl in the media that the new defense minister would order audits of various elements of the armed forces.

Last month, the tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets reported that Mikhailov had tendered his resignation after Serdyukov told him that he had found evidence of misuse of funds in the Air Force. Specifically, the newspaper reported that money allocated for the Strizhy and Russkiye Vityazi flight demonstration squadrons had been funneled to a private company.

At the time, military prosecutors told the Gazeta.ru web site that they were investigating the allegations. Drobyshevsky then dismissed the reports as "disinformation."