MOSCOW -- Vladimir Putin fired his defense chief over a corruption scandal yesterday, but a heady mix of sex, power struggles and military vendettas dominated talk in Russia about what was really behind the downfall of the man who has overseen the most radical defense reform in decades.
The dismissal of Anatoly Serdyukov was a surprise because the burly politician was widely regarded as having the president's blessing for a military modernization that has won the enmity of generals and arms makers with connections to members of Putin's inner circle.
Adding intrigue was the fact that Serdyukov is married to the daughter of one of Putin's close allies, a former prime minister who heads state-run natural gas giant Gazprom. Media reports suggest that Serdyukov's alleged philandering angered Viktor Zubkov.
But most experts see a behind-the-scenes power struggle at the root of Putin's decision.
Serdyukov masterminded a campaign to drastically cut the ranks of officers and overhaul an antiquated military structure to create a leaner, meaner force that might restore Russia's faded military glory.
He has aggressively demanded higher quality and cheaper prices from the military industry, ruffling powerful business interests. That is seen as having set off an internal struggle in which Kremlin allies of leading arms makers have conspired to bring Serdyukov down.
"He angered the leaders of defense industries, refusing to sign new contracts until they make their prices fully transparent," said Alexander Golts, an independent Moscow-based military expert. "And he told them that the military will buy the weapons it needs, not the weapons they want to sell."
Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, told The Associated Press that Serdyukov's moves to "replace the very foundation of the Russian military system" won him powerful enemies.
Putin made the announcement in a meeting with Moscow regional governor Sergei Shoigu, whom he appointed as the new minister.
The corruption case involves Oboronservice, a state company whose activities include servicing military aircraft and arms. In an early-morning search of the apartment of Yevgeniya Vasilyeva, an Oboronservice official who was once a defense aide of Serdyukov, he reportedly was alone with her when police arrived, fueling rumors of an affair.
"The scandal behind the scandal is a personal scandal that has been rumored in Mr. Serdyukov's family," Trenin said.