Putin sacks Russia navy commander - media

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MOSCOW, Sep 14 (Reuters) President Vladimir Putin has sacked the commander of Russia's navy, taking to at least four the number of top brass dismissed since he appointed a new defence minister, media in Russia reported today.

The Moscow Times, an English-language daily, said Admiral Vladimir Masorin may have angered the Kremlin by accepting a US award in August without advance permission.

The paper said Masorin had not followed the established practice of asking Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov before accepting the Legion of Merit at a ceremony in Washington.

Defence ministry and Kremlin spokesmen refused to comment on the reports, saying they had not yet seen a decree ordering Masorin's departure.

A Defence Ministry spokesman played down any suggestion of a connection between the US award and Masorin's reported departure, saying other top military had accepted similar honours in the past.

Masorin had reached the age of 60, at which military officers are required to tender their resignation. However, Putin can extend their contracts until they are 65 -- something he declined to do with Masorin.

Russia's navy will now be run by Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, the commander of Russia's Northern Fleet.

In February, Putin promoted Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov, a close ally viewed as a potential presidential successor, to the post of first deputy prime minister and named Serdyukov, a little-known tax official from St Petersburg, to head the ministry.

At least three other top officers, including Air Force commander Vladimir Mikhailov, the head of the Defence Ministry's International Cooperation Department Anatoly Mazurkevich and the head of department in charge of armaments Alexei Moskovsky, have lost their jobs since Serdyukov's appointment.

Kommersant daily suggested that Serdyukov was clearing the ministry of officers loyal to Ivanov, a former KGB agent.

Serdyukov is the son-in-law of Viktor Zubkov, a former head of a financial watchdog whom Putin named on Wednesday as his new prime minister.

Kommersant suggested that armed forces chief of staff Yuri Baluyevsky could be next in line for sacking.

REUTERS SKB DS1407

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