13 May 2024

Russia's Putin proposes moving defence chief Shoigu in surprise reshuffle

8:12 am on 13 May 2024
Russian President and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin meets with the media at his campaign headquarters in Moscow on 18 March 2024.

Vladimir Putin speaks to media at his campaign headquarters in Moscow after exit polls indicated he won 88 percent of the vote in Russia's presidential election. Photo: AFP

Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed a surprise new defence minister, nominating civilian Andrei Belousov, a former deputy prime minister who specialises in economics, for the job more than two years into the Ukraine war, the Kremlin said.

Putin wants Sergei Shoigu, defence minister since 2012 and a long-standing ally, to become the secretary of Russia's powerful Security Council, replacing incumbent Nikolai Patrushev, and to also have responsibilities for the military-industrial complex, the Kremlin announced on Sunday.

The changes, certain to be approved by parliamentarians, are the most significant Putin has made to the military command since sending tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in February 2022 in what he called a special military operation.

The shake-up gives Shoigu a job that is technically regarded as senior to his defence ministry role, ensuring continuity and saving Shoigu's face. Valery Gerasimov, the chief of Russia's General Staff and someone with a more hands-on role when it comes to directing the war, will remain in post.

Sergei Lavrov, the country's veteran foreign minister, will also stay in his job, the Kremlin said.

File photo. Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu salutes to soldiers as he is driven along Red Square during the Victory Day military parade in central Moscow on 9 May, 2024.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu salutes to soldiers in Moscow's Red Square during the Victory Day military parade, on 9 May, 2024. Photo: AFP

The appointment of Belousov, a civilian official known for his economic decision-making rather than battlefield knowledge, is the biggest surprise.

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin's spokesman, told reporters that the change made sense because Russia was approaching a situation like the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s, when the military and law enforcement authorities accounted for 7.4 percent of state spending.

That, said Peskov, meant it was vital to ensure such spending aligned with the country's overall interests, which was why Putin now wanted a civilian with an economic background in the defence ministry job.

"The one who is more open to innovations is the one who will be victorious on the battlefield," Peskov said.

The change is also likely to be seen by an attempt by Putin to subject defence spending to greater scrutiny to ensure funds are effectively spent after a Shoigu ally and deputy defence minister was accused by state prosecutors of taking a bribe.

- Reuters

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