When Vladimir Putin fired Anatoly Serdyukov, his defence minister and one of only three officials with access to nuclear launch codes, Russia was stunned.
Never before had the Russian strongman, who is well-known for his aversion to high-profile sackings, fired government officials of such stature.
Serdyukov, Putin said, was relieved of his post due to a corruption scandal, and soon after national television broadcast a documentary exposing intricate corruption schemes at the defence ministry.
"A tough, uncompromising fight against corruption has begun," star pro-Kremlin television journalist Arkady Mamontov announced.
Since Serdyukov's sacking earlier this month, hardly a day has gone by without Vladimir Markin, the public face of the secretive Investigative Committee, Russia's equivalent of the FBI, going on national television to report about state funds misappropriated by bureaucrats.
Six months after Putin, 60, returned to the Kremlin for a third term amid huge protests, an anti-corruption campaign is in full swing which is expected to claim new casualties in the future.
The interior ministry said earlier this month space contractor the Russian Space Systems had misspent more than 565 million rubles ($18 million).
Soon after the Audit Chamber said more than 15 billion rubles ($486 million) had been misspent between 2008 and 2012 for the preparations of an Asian summit Russia hosted outside Vladivostok in September.
On Tuesday, a Kremlin-controlled channel aired a new expose, this time targeting former agriculture minister Elena Skrynnik.
Complete with bird's-eye views of what the channel said was Skrynnik's house in France, the documentary accused the former official of stealing 1.2 billion dollars during her stint at the state-run agricultural equipment leasing firm.
Widespread corruption was one of the complaints that fuelled the unprecedented opposition rallies that rocked Russia in the last year, with protesters saying corruption had become a way of life under Putin's nearly 13 years in power.
In Transparency International's 2001 corruption perception index, Russia stands at 143 place out of 182 nations. It is behind Sierra Leone, Pakistan and Kosovo.
Intriguingly, by cracking down on corruption Putin is emulating the most prominent leader of the opposition movement Alexei Navalny who turned the fight against graft into a personal crusade.
Kremlin critic and political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky said Putin wanted to win back the middle classes who were at the forefront of the protests.
"An ageing autocrat does not want power -- he's got enough of it -- he wants love," Belkovsky told AFP. "And there won't be people's love without the fight against corruption."
"There will be a lot of casualties in this campaign. Serdyukov was a key figure and if he was dismissed that means all bets are off."
The latest poll from the independent Levada Centre found that Putin's approval ratings declined to 63 percent in November from 67 percent in October.
The dissatisfaction with the authorities has approached the level of the past December that saw the outbreak of the protests, said Led Gudkov, director of the Levada Centre.
"These are some of the lowest figures since we started monitoring," he told AFP.
After the sacking of the defence minister, Putin's approval rating shot up by 4 percentage points, according to the Public Opinion pollster.
But Gudkov said any boost would only be temporary. "It will keep going down. Such trends are irreversible."
In a sign that even ordinary Russians may be deeply sceptical about the campaign, 45 percent of respondents polled by state-controlled pollster VTsIOM called the latest corruption scandals a settling of scores among officials.
Liberal business daily Vedomosti said so far there were few signs that the Kremlin was prepared to tackle corruption in earnest and prosecute high-ranking officials.
"The start of corruption probes meets public expectations but their development does not satisfy these expectations," it said in an editorial, noting Putin wanted to reign in wayward elites without changing the status quo.
During a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Kremlin this month, Putin said Serdyukov was free to work at any company that would hire him.
"It's not 1937 here," quipped Putin, referring to the peak year of Stalin-era purges.
Some analysts warn the anti-corruption campaign will damage Putin by alienating government officials who form the bulk of his support.
Georgy Satarov, head of Indem think tank, said Putin was essentially violating an unspoken pact with the elites that has until now given them a right to enrich themselves in exchange for their loyalty.
"If they stop feeling safe and lose their sense of loyalty, they will do everything to protect themselves," Satarov wrote in ej.ru political online journal.
"The violation of the pact with the elites is one of the key factors leading to the collapse of an empire."