Russian defense chief crossed Putin's political "family"

Thu Nov 8, 2012 8:55am EST
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By Thomas Grove and Timothy Heritage

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Viktor Zubkov was the friend Russian President Vladimir Putin turned to when he wanted help blowing out his birthday candles 12 years ago.

At the time, Zubkov was an obscure tax man but had already forged the close relationship with Putin on which the political career of Russia's defense minister may have foundered this week in a tale of alleged corruption, adultery and Kremlin rivalries.

By 2007, Zubkov had become prime minister and rising with him was Anatoly Serdyukov, whose appointment as defense minister the same year cannot have been hindered by his marriage to Zubkov's only daughter Yulia.

Serdyukov, now 50, appears, however, to have made a politically fatal error by falling out with his patron after his marriage hit the rocks.

It was Serdyukov who, according to some Russian media, opened the door to police in his bathrobe and slippers when they launched an early-morning raid last month on the apartment of his 33-year-old female neighbor, one of his former employees.

The raid, part of an investigation into a nearly $100 million corruption scandal, was soon splashed across Russian newspapers and Serdyukov's job was on the line.

A hastily arranged meeting with Putin the day the news broke failed to save him.

After years of loyalty, he had become a political liability to the president, who announced his dismissal in a televised meeting with his successor on Tuesday.   Continued...