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Massive Leadership Cull in Russia's Baltic Sea Fleet

July 1, 2016 (Photo Credit: KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV, AFP/Getty Images)

MOSCOW — Russia's Defense Ministry on Wednesday launched an unprecedented purge of senior leadership from Russia's ailing Baltic Sea Fleet following a month-long inquiry into the fleet's command staff under the charge of Vice Adm. Viktor Kravchuk and his chief of staff, Vice Adm. Sergei Popov.

In total, some 50 senior naval officers were dismissed from military service for “dereliction of duty,” according to a Defense Ministry statement.

According to the statement, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said the Baltic command showed “serious shortcomings in the organization of combat training, daily activities of their forces, failure to take all necessary measures to improve personnel accommodations, inattention to their subordinates, and also distorted reports on the real state of affairs [in the fleet].”

The Baltic Fleet is the smallest and most neglected of Russia's four primary naval groupings, which include the Northern, Pacific and Black Sea Fleets. Despite a steady flow of funding dedicated to revitalizing the Baltic grouping in recent years, the fleet's performance under Kravchuk reportedly raised flags in the Defense Ministry, according to St. Petersburg news site Fontanka.ru.

The month-long inspection of Kravchuk's command, which ended on June 10, was specifically prompted by an unconfirmed incident involving the collision of a Baltic Fleet submarine with a Polish patrol vessel in April, Fontanka reported, citing a senior Defense Ministry source. Baltic Fleet vessels have reportedly also recently experienced mechanical problems during exercises.

The only officer spared from the culling was Vice Adm. Sergey Eliseyev, the former deputy commander of the Ukrainian Navy. Eliseyev was among those Ukrainian officers to accept Russian offers to defect for higher pay and better living conditions during Moscow's brazen annexation of Crimea in March 2014. He is wanted by Kiev for treason and desertion.

But command of the Baltic Fleet will not fall to Eliseyev. The Kommersant daily newspaper, citing Defense Ministry sources, reported Friday that two seasoned admirals from the Black Sea and Pacific Fleets will take the helm in the Baltic. Command will fall on Vice Adm. Alexander Nosatov, and his chief of staff will be Vice Adm. Igor Mukhametshin.

Nosatov has experience in the Baltic, where he served as the commander of the fleet's main base in Kaliningrad – nestled between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic coast – from 2009 to 2012. He has since served as head of the naval academy and deputy commander of the Black Sea Fleet. Mukhametshin served as the head of the Pacific Fleet's submarine force. They will be given until the end of the year to turn the Baltic Fleet around, before a second Defense Ministry inspection.

Email: mbodner@defensenews.com

Twitter: @mattb0401

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