Vladimir Putin has sacked every single commander in Russia’s Baltic fleet in what has been described as a ‘Stalin-style’ purge.
Up to 50 officers of the fleet were fired alongside Vice Admiral Viktor Kravchuk and his chief of staff Rear Admiral Sergei Popov after they reportedly refused to follow orders to confront Western ships.
Reports in Russia also suggested the purges followed an alleged cover-up of a submarine accident, flaws in recruitment and military construction projects.
It comes amid an undisclosed number of other senior officers of the fleets have been fired over serious flaws in combat training and their failure to take proper care of personnel.
The purges’ scope and publicity make them highly unusual for the Russian military, which usually removes senior officers in a more subtle way.
It is particularly unexpected as it follows Putin’s visit to the Baltic fleet last year in Kalingrad, during which he praised its performance.
However, there has been speculation the drastic measures were prompted after the US Navy ship the USS Donald Cook was ‘buzzed’ by Russian fighter bombers in April, which was meant to be part of a series of confrontations against Western ships in the Baltic.
But international affairs analyst Peter Coates told news.com.au: ‘But the Russian Baltic Fleet, however, refused to follow such dangerous orders – hence Putin’s retaliation against his own naval officers.