Putin removes Sergei Shoigu as Russia’s defence minister

Vladimir Putin has removed his longtime ally Sergei Shoigu as defence minister in the most significant reshuffle to the military command since Russian troops invaded Ukraine more than two years ago.

In a surprise announcement, the Kremlin said Andrei Belousov, a former deputy prime minister who specialises in economics, will replace Shoigu.

Putin, who was sworn into his fifth term as Russia’s leader earlier this week, proposed that Shoigu take the position as head of Russia’s powerful security council. It is currently led by Nikolai Patrushev, a hawkish former spy and one of Putin’s closest advisers.

Shoigu, Russia’s longest-serving minister, assumed leadership of the defence ministry in 2012 after his tenure as the emergency services minister. He has been leading Russia’s military through its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which began in 2022.

As defence minister Shoigu was tasked with modernising Russia’s military and was believed to have direct access to Putin, going on regular hunting and fishing trips with him in Siberia.

Shoigu’s popularity in Russia grew after the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, which he was credited with orchestrating.

But he has come under intense criticism for Russia’s military setbacks after the February 2022 invasion, as well as for his inability to root out the widespread corruption that continues to plague the army. Most dramatically, Shoigu was forced to fend off an armed uprising last summer by mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, who had called for his arrest.

Shoigu’s position appeared to have weakened last month when the security services arrested his long-term confidant Timur Ivanov, a deputy defence minister, and charged him with large-scale corruption.

On paper, Sunday’s reorganisation places Shoigu in a position formally considered higher ranking than his role in the defence ministry in what some observers believe is a move by Putin that allows his old ally to save face.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that Putin decided to appoint Belousov, a veteran economist, to lead the defence ministry after Russia’s war spending had vastly increased.

“It’s very important to put the security economy in line with the economy of the country so that it meets the dynamics of the current moment,” Peskov said.

Peskov added that the Russian president had decided a civilian should head the defence ministry to ensure the department was “open to innovations and advanced ideas”. “The one who is more open to innovations is the one who will be victorious on the battlefield,” Peskov said.


Belousov graduated from Moscow State University’s Faculty of Economics in 1981 with distinction and, according to Russian outlet RBC, practised sambo and karate in his youth and did not serve in the armed forces.

In 2000, he became a non-staff adviser to the Russian prime minister and joined the economy ministry as deputy minister six years later. From 2008 to 2012, he was director of the department for economics and finance, the same years Putin served as prime minister.

In 2012, he was made economics minister. From 2013 until 2020, Belousov served as adviser to the Russian president. From 2020, he worked as first deputy prime minister.

Mark Galeotti, director of the London-based Mayak Intelligence consultancy, said: “… having an economist, someone who has been speaking about the need to basically subordinate much of the economy to the needs of the defence sector, makes a certain amount of sense. It is now essentially a financial administrator’s job and Belousov can do that.”

Russia has presided over a massive ramping up of industrial military production over the last two years, with total defence spending rising to an estimated 7.5% of its GDP.

A former defence official who has worked with Shoigu, speaking on conditions of anonymity, said: “The Kremlin wants the ministry to be led by an economist who knows how to streamline its operations.

“The defence ministry is supposed to be efficient and well run, while the actual decisions on the battlefield are left to the military.”

Valery Gerasimov, the veteran chief of Russia’s general staff and someone with a more hands-on role when it comes to the fighting, will remain in post, the Kremlin said.

It remains unclear what position will be taken by Patrushev, who has led the security council since 2008 and is believed to have helped mastermind the invasion of Ukraine.

Peskov told Russian state media late on Sunday that Patrushev’s new role will be announced in the “next few days”.

Earlier this week it was announced that his son Dmitry Patrushev, formerly agriculture minister, will be promoted to deputy prime minister.

With Reuters

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