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Kremlin makes sweeping purge of Baltic Fleet commanders

Elizabeth Schumacher (AP, Reuters)July 1, 2016

More than fifty senior officers have been fired in a single call by the Defense Ministry. Accident cover-ups and failure to report the true state of the fleet are to blame according to media reports.

Baltische Ostseeflotte Navy Day
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/I. Zarembo

According to Russian media, a slew of top commanders of Russia's Baltic fleet have been purged by Sergey Shoygu on Thursday for undisclosed flaws in carrying out their duties. The move marks the biggest sweeping removal of senior officers since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Fifty top-ranking officers along with fleet commander Vice Admiral Viktor Kravchuk were fired en masse. The news website Fontanka.ru reported that the purge followed an alleged cover-up of a submarine accident, as well as problems with recruitment and military construction projects.

Media reports have also said that housing for members of the fleet was left in deplorable condition, particularly in the exclave of Kaliningrad, which borders NATO nations Poland and Lithuania. Apparently one section of housing for officers' families was in such bad condition that it partially collapsed.

The move was unexpected, as when President Vladimir Putin visited the fleet last year he emphatically praised its performance. It was further unusual in that such a public and wide-ranging ouster is uncommon in Russia, where underperforming officers are often removed from their posts with more subtlety.

A terse statement from the Defense Ministry said that Kravchuk, his chief of staff Rear Admiral Sergey Popov and the other senior officers were dismissed for problems with combat training and their failure to ensure the well-being of personnel. The statement also made mention of false reports given to the Kremlin about the fleet's condition.