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Russian Graft Probe Targets Defense Ministry’s Nuclear Forces

Russia opened 13 criminal investigations into corruption in the strategic missile forces that operate the country’s nuclear arsenal, the latest in a spate of anti-graft probes that have already triggered the departure of Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov.

The ministry lost more than 90 million rubles ($3 million) as military commanders abused their authority in awarding 16 contracts to redevelop land used for missile tests, according to a statement on the General Prosecutor’s website today. Other crimes include bribery and paying kickbacks, prosecutors said.

President Vladimir Putin fired Serdyukov in November over an alleged $132 million fraud involving his subordinates. Serdyukov, who orchestrated an overhaul of the Russian army before leaving his post, has been questioned twice as a witness.

Frustration with graft, the worst among major economies according to Transparency International, helped fuel the biggest anti-Putin protests since the Russian leader ascended to the presidency in 1999. Putin, who returned to the Kremlin last year after a stint as prime minister, is seeking to bolster the government’s anti-corruption efforts.

Serdyukov’s replacement, Sergei Shoigu, the country’s longest-serving Cabinet member, has begun reviewing his predecessor’s decisions. Shoigu had previously headed the Emergency Situations Ministry, which was involved in a corruption investigation in 2003 during Putin’s first presidential term.

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