(Bloomberg) -- The arrest on bribery charges of one of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s closest allies has weakened his position ahead of a potential government shuffle by President Vladimir Putin, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

The detention of Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov may be an attempt to undermine Shoigu, two people close to the Kremlin said, asking not to be identified discussing internal matters. It represents a final warning to Shoigu to improve the ministry’s wartime performance though he’s unlikely to be ousted at this time, one of the people said.

Still, the case against Ivanov, who was the focus of a corruption investigation by the late opposition leader Alexey Navalny’s team early in Russia’s war on Ukraine, is a severe blow to Shoigu’s authority, people close to the Defense Ministry and Russian intelligence services said, asking not to be identified because the issue is sensitive.

The scandal has erupted ahead of Putin’s May 7 inauguration for a fifth term as president, with Russia’s war in Ukraine in its third year and showing no sign of ending. The US is preparing to resume the flow of arms deliveries to Ukraine after Congress approved $61 billion in aid delayed for six months by domestic political divisions. 

Putin may carry out a significant government shake-up for the first time since 2020 following his inauguration. Shoigu, who’s been defense minister since 2012, has faced criticism for his handling of the invasion of Ukraine, most vividly from the late Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who led a mutiny last June to try to oust him and army chief Valery Gerasimov. 

Still, Russia has lately been making limited, local advances along the frontline as Ukrainian forces wrestle with shortages of weapons and manpower, along with a dire need for more air defense systems. Shoigu threatened this week to intensify missile and drone attacks on Ukraine in response to the US decision to supply more weapons to its ally.

Moscow’s Basmanny Court on Wednesday ordered Ivanov held in custody for two months while investigations continue. Russia’s Investigative Committee announced the deputy minister’s detention late Tuesday in Moscow on accusations of accepting an “especially large” bribe exceeding 1 million rubles ($11,000).

Ivanov denies the bribery allegation, the Interfax news service reported, citing a person familiar that it didn’t identify. He faces as much as 15 years in jail if convicted. 

Ivanov, one of 12 deputy defense ministers, has been in post since May 2016. He’s seen as the second closest deputy to Shoigu, some of the people familiar said. He’s under US and European Union sanctions for his role in Russia’s war in Ukraine, and is responsible for property management and infrastructure projects at the Defense Ministry.

Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation in 2022 accused Ivanov of profiting from construction projects in the occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

The deputy minister’s detention indicates “a really serious weakening of Shoigu,” said Nikolay Petrov, a visiting fellow at the Berlin-based SWP think tank. Amid an intensifying struggle for position within Russia’s elite, the arrest “would not have happened without Putin’s permission,” he said.

To be sure, Shoigu, 68, is among Putin’s closest allies. He has bonded with the president over decades in government, accompanying him on highly publicized hunting and horse-riding trips in the Siberian wilderness in a sign of his privileged position in the inner circle.

Read more: Putin’s Hunting Pal Is at the Center of Kremlin Caterer’s Mutiny

“The authorities are showing that they’re purging themselves of bribe-takers,” and indicating that the elite must show strict discipline during the confrontation with the West, said Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Moscow. “I don’t think this weakens Shoigu. This arrest is hardly noticed by the ‘masses,’” he said.

Ministers, including Shoigu himself, have carried on successful careers after the arrest of close allies. In 2006, one of Shoigu’s deputies in the Emergencies Ministry was sentenced to 20 years in prison for organizing a criminal gang involved in extortion and racketeering.

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