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Leonid Bershidsky

Why Putin Sacrificed His Economy Minister

Alexei Ulyukayev's late-night arrest makes little sense unless it leads to a bigger purge.
Out of favor.

Out of favor.

Photographer: Artyom GeodakyanTASS via Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been rather consistent lately in making it clear that senior officials were not immune from corruption charges. Yet Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev's arrest in the wee hours of Tuesday still stands out. It raises questions about the future of Putin's highly professional, technocratic economic team as well as one of the president's closest associates, Igor Sechin, who runs the state-owned oil behemoth, Rosneft.

In the last two years, three regional governors and the officials charged with fighting corruption at the Interior Ministry and the Investigative Committee (the Russian counterpart of the Federal Bureau of Investigation) have been arrested and jailed on corruption charges. As recently as Monday, three top officials from the Kemerovo region, Russia's biggest coal-producing area, were charged with extortion, prompting the region's powerful, long-serving governor, Aman Tuleev, to wonder aloud if he was the target of the investigation.