President Vladimir Putin fired Russia's defence minister over corruption allegations on Tuesday, the latest twist in an unfolding saga of power, money and suspected adultery at the heart of the Kremlin.
Putin announced on television that he had fired Anatoly Serdyukov, once seen as one of the president's most loyal courtiers but lately a liability amid allegations that the military sold off assets cheaply to insiders.
"Taking into consideration the situation around the Defence Ministry, in order to create conditions for an objective investigation into all matters, I have decided to remove Defence Minister Serdyukov from his post," Putin said.
Serdyukov's replacement will be Sergei Shoigu, recently named governor of the Moscow region and known as a popular and loyal Putin ally during nearly two decades as head of the Emergencies Ministry.
The defence minister wields immense power in Russia, channelling billions of dollars every year through the country's powerful defence industry, the second-largest arms exporter in the world.
Russian media have been speculating for days that Serdyukov had lost Putin's support after having an extra-marital affair that infuriated Serdyukov's powerful father-in-law and patron, Viktor Zubkov, chairman of oil monopoly Gazprom.
When police raided the apartment of Serdyukov's neighbour, 33-year-old female military bureaucrat Yevgeniya Vasilieva, they found valuable paintings, rare antiques and more than 100 expensive rings.
A Russian tabloid newspaper with connections to security personnel reported that Serdyukov was in the apartment as well when the raid began.
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