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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Defense Minister Resigns Over Family Ties

ReutersPutin walking with Zubkov during their evening meeting in Sochi on Tuesday.
In the first casualty of a looming Cabinet shake-up, acting Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov resigned Tuesday due to his relationship to new Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, who is his father-in-law.

Zubkov announced the resignation after meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Sochi late Tuesday.

"I spoke with Serdyukov, and we came to the conclusion that he should submit his resignation since he is a close relative," Zubkov said in televised comments.

Serdyukov, a former furniture dealer who was promoted to defense minister just seven months ago, is married to Zubkov's daughter.

Zubkov did not say who would replace Serdyukov or indicate which other ministers might leave.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said by telephone, however, that there would be additional changes. He did not elaborate.

Peskov also said Serdyukov had quit because he had no choice under the law. "Serdyukov, as everyone knows, is the son-in-law of the prime minister, and according to the law, he had to resign for ethical reasons," he said.

Zubkov said he had delivered his plan for the structure and lineup of the next government to Putin and that a decision would be announced by Friday.

"The structure will be decided within the period defined by the law — within seven days of my appointment," Zubkov said, Interfax reported. He became prime minster last Friday.

Serdyukov has made few friends in the Defense Ministry since his surprise appointment in February, when he replaced now acting First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov. He used his brief stint to clean up the ministry, initiating an internal ministry audit less than a month after his appointment and overseeing the dismissal of a number of key officials, including Air Force chief Vladimir Mikhailov and one of his key deputies, Boris Cheltsov, head of the Air Force Main Staff, in May, and Navy chief Vladimir Masorin last week.

Anatoly Serdyukov
State Duma Deputy Gennady Gudkov praised Serdyukov's resignation in a telephone interview. "This is the right decision. There should not be family clans in the government," said Gudkov, who sits on the Duma's anti-corruption commission.

"This shows that Russia is a European country," said Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected political analyst. "Serdyukov left because he's related to the prime minister. Things are not done that way in our country."

Markov said the next defense minister would be someone better received by the armed forces. "Serdyukov had two problems: He was related to the prime minister and wasn't very well liked by the army," he said.

A security analyst said, however, that Serdyukov would have stayed if the law had allowed it. "Under Russian law, relatives cannot work together. This is the only reason, in my opinion, he resigned," said Anton Surikov with the Institute for Globalization Studies.

Andrei Ryabov, a political analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, said the law provided "some instructions" prohibiting relatives from working together but did not apply to "class A bureaucrats."

Before Putin tapped him for the Defense Ministry, Serdyukov headed the Federal Tax Service, where he drafted back tax bills worth $33 billion that ultimately led to the demise of the Yukos oil company. A native of St. Petersburg, he is seen as close to Putin's inner circle.

Interfax reported Monday that Serdyukov was engineering an even bigger shake-up in the Defense Ministry. The report, citing an unidentified ministry official, said acting First Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Belousov would lose his post and be made the country's permanent representative to NATO. Belousov will be replaced by General Alexander Kolmakov, head of the airborne troops, while Kolmakov's replacement will be General Valery Yevtukhovich, the report said. Chief of the General Staff Yury Baluyevsky may soon resign because of disagreements over the arms-procurement budget, it said.

During the Tuesday evening meeting, Putin also instructed Zubkov to deal with problems arising from last month's earthquake on the far eastern island of Sakhalin. "The president has instructed me to deal with the situation in Sakhalin. The fact is that money has not yet arrived there, although the tragedy occurred on Aug. 3, " Zubkov said, Interfax reported.

Putin named Zubkov as prime minister in a surprise decision Sept. 12. The Duma confirmed Zubkov for the post Friday. Zubkov, who worked with Putin in the St. Petersburg city administration in the 1990s, had headed a financial crimes agency for the past six years.

Staff Writer Peter Leonard contributed to this report.