Putin replaces army chief of staff in defence shake-up

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (L), Prime Minister and President-elect Vladimir Putin (C) and Moscow Deputy Mayor Pyotr Biryukov (R) talk during a march to celebrate International Workers' Day, or Labour Day, in Moscow May 1, 2012. (REUTERS/Dmitry Astakhov/RIA Novosti/Kremlin)

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin on Friday replaced Russia's army chief of staff with a veteran commander from the second Chechnya war, in a shake-up of the military after the sacking of the defence minister.

Army chief of staff Nikolai Makarov is to be replaced by General Valery Gerasimov, a commander at the North Caucasus military district in the second Chechnya war, Putin announced days after the sacking of defence minister Anatoly Serdyukov in a graft scandal.

"You are an experienced person," Putin told Gerasimov in a meeting at the Kremlin that also included the new Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

"I believe the minister has picked the right candidate and I hope that you will work to the best of your abilities and efficiently."

The chief of staff is one of three people in Russia with exclusive access to nuclear launch codes. The other two are the president and the defence minister.

Shoigu described Gerasimov -- who served as first deputy chief of staff between 2010 and 2012 -- as a "military man from head to toe."

He added that Gerasimov enjoyed respect in the army and had "colossal experience working both at the general staff" as well as "in the field."

A career officer, 57-year-old Gerasimov also served as the commander of the 58th army in the North Caucasus military district in the late 90s and commanded Russian troops in the second war against separatists in Chechnya.

On Tuesday, Putin fired defence minister Serdyukov over a corruption scandal, the most dramatic change to the government since he returned for a third Kremlin term in May amid rising discontent.

Putin said at the time Serdyukov had been relieved of his duties so that a thorough investigation can proceed into a suspected $100 million property scam at a defence ministry holding company.





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