An inconvenient case of Shoigu’s Deputy

Last week's arrest of Deputy Defence Minister Timur Ivanov is the highest-profile corruption case in years. The influential opponents of Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu’s were able to conduct a blitzkrieg and unexpectedly stub his clan in the back. Journalist Andrey Pertsev argues that the system is at a loss as to how to respond: influential individuals are too busy defending their own interests, instead of those of the regime.

Timur Ivanov, Vladimir Putin and Sergei Shoigu in the Military-Patriotic Park 'Patriot' in 2018 (Foto: Kremlin)

By Andrey Pertsev

Ivanov is said to be a close associate of Shoigu’s, who controls the ministry’s infrastructure projects and manages its property. The main enemies of Sergei Shoigu and his group are believed to be the clan of Viktor Zolotov, the head of Rosgvardiya, who wants to extend his sphere of influence and control to the army. For a long time, Shoigu’s enemies have been trying to publicly undermine his reputation, using Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the «Wagner» PMC, as their main battering ram. Prigozhin accused Shoigu and his subordinates of unprofessionalism, and claimed that the regular armed forces under Shoigu’s command were inefficient. For several months, Prigozhin, a number of military reporters and TV channels attacked Shoigu, and at one point it seemed that the minister would soon resign, especially as the army was failing to make headway on the battlefield. But despite all the challenges, the head of the Defence Ministry managed to fend off the attacks, and Prigozhin’s mutiny last year actually worked to strengthen Shoigu’s position.

Ivanov 2024 04 24 3
Timur Ivanov in court, 24 April 2024 (Foto: Telegram)

In recent months, the Russian army has managed to take the initiative on the battlefield, and the president is clearly pleased. Shoigu had a good chance of keeping his ministerial post after Putin’s inauguration (at least until the end of the war), and his group had a good chance of adding to its ranks and expanding its influence once the government is reshuffled. Against this background, those plotting against the minister and his clan found a breach in his defence and chose a tried and tested method: they launched an anti-corruption case against an important representative of a rival group. Putin will not be able to ignore this, so some losses for the Shoigu clan are inevitable. In any case, he can certainly forget about his expansion plans.

However, the blitzkrieg undertaken by Shoigu’s opponents has left the system at a loss as to how to respond to these developments. Arrests of officials, even at lower levels of the power vertical, typically take a long time to be approved and coordinated; the top brass knows how and when to comment on them. In addition, the authorities try to reap PR benefits from such arrests. Television channels and other the media loyal to the authorities tend to portray the officials that have messed up with bundles of money, luxury goods, expensive cars and mansions. So far we’ve seen nothing of the sort pertaining to Timur Ivanov’s arrest, at least not yet.

Mansion Timur IvanovDrone footage of Timur Ivanov's mansion, published on 20 December 2022 on Navalny's YouTube channel (Source: YouTube)

Photos of the now former deputy minister’s mansion have only appeared on a few Telegram channels, although it’s clear that the propagandists would have ample evidence to show. Ivanov loved luxury and was not shy about his expensive tastes. TV news reports mention the deputy minister’s case only briefly or try to avoid it altogether. In other words, they simply did not have time to prepare a PR campaign to explain Ivanov’s arrest because there was no order to do so. It’s quite likely that there won’t be one: a wartime trial of the deputy defence minister will tarnish the image of the authorities in general. Even pro-war Russians may start asking questions: what is the war for? Is it waged to protect the mansions and corruption schemes of top officials? If the Russian army were not doing well at the front, the arrest of the deputy defence minister might explain that. But so far the Russian armed forces are doing well, especially in the narrative spun by propaganda.

The vertical cannot yet digest the case of Timur Ivanov: the propaganda is silent, Shoigu is silent and Putin, too, is silent. The internal squabbles of influential groups overshadow the interests of the system as a whole, but since the system is made up of these groups, it cannot develop a unified and collective response to such excesses. The last weeks before the window of opportunities for the hopeful cadres opens during the reappointment of the government will obviously be hot. Members of the power vertical will propose and try to realise their projects for the future (and Ivanov’s arrest is also a project of sorts). These projects are either for the personal benefit of individual players, or are designed to attract the attention of the President in order for their authors to retain their position or increase their influence. These proposals may have a negative public impact, but groups and influential individuals are currently busy defending their own interests, not those of the regime as a whole.

This article was originally published by Riddle Russia

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