Russian defence minister and long-time Putin ally Sergei Shoigu to be replaced | World News

Russia’s defence minister is set to be replaced, more than two years into the war in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed replacing his long-time ally, Sergei Shoigu, with civilian and former deputy prime minister Andrei Belousov, who specialises in economics.

Mr Shoigu, who has served as defence minister since 2012, will take up a role as head of the national security council and have responsibilities for the military-industrial complex, the Kremlin said.

Ukraine war latest: Putin reshuffle points to ‘serious instability’

In his new role, Mr Shoigu will replace Nikolai Patrushev, whose new job will be announced soon, according to the Kremlin.

Mr Putin’s press secretary Dmitriy Peskov said the president decided the ministry of defence should be headed by a civilian to be “open to innovation and advanced ideas”.

The shuffle could also be seen as an attempt by Mr Putin to scrutinise defence spending after a Shoigu ally, deputy defence minister Timur Ivanov, was accused by state prosecutors of taking a bribe.

But the changes make sense, Mr Peskov claims, because Russia is approaching a situation like the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s, when the military and law enforcement authorities accounted for 7.4% of spending.

Andrei Belousov. Pic: Reuters

Former MI6 intelligence officer, Christopher Steele, who ran the Russia desk between 2006 and 2009, told Sky News he takes Mr Peskov’s words “with a pinch of salt”.

“It seems to me that probably the reason he’s chosen Belousov is because he’s not really any kind of player in the system or any sort of threat to Putin,” he added.

He also said Mr Patrushev’s appointment may hint at instability “right underneath him in the top leadership”.

“It was clear to most of us Russia-watchers for some time that Patrushev was lining up his son, Dmitry, who’s the current agriculture minister, to be Putin’s successor as president,” he said.

“And there have been some indications that there’s been some serious instability at the top in Russia in recent months… so I think that this really is a very significant move by Putin.”

Sergei Shoigu. Pic: Reuters
Sergei Shoigu. Pic: Reuters

Commenting on Mr Shoigu’s removal, the UK’s defence minister Grant Shapps said he leaves with a “disastrous legacy”.

“Sergei Shoigu has overseen over 355,000 casualties among his own soldiers and mass civilian suffering with an illegal campaign in Ukraine,” he said.

“Russia needs a defence minister who would undo that disastrous legacy and end the invasion – but all they’ll get is another of Putin’s puppets.”

A huge surprise – but what do these changes mean for Putin?

This has come as a huge surprise. Not one, but two key figures in Russia’s military leadership structure sacked simultaneously.

It suggests there’s a lot more going on inside the Kremlin than meets the eye.

Shoigu is a very close Putin ally and has been for years. So why replace him?

Clearly Putin is unhappy with the direction of the war. This coincides with Russia’s attempt to open up a new front in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine. New directions and new leadership – Putin’s ringing the changes.

Shoigu’s successor speaks volumes. Andrei Belousov is an economist, a technocrat. He’s not an obvious choice to run the military, but this underlines where Putin’s concerns are right now – “how much longer can I afford the war?”.

Russia’s entire economy is geared towards the military right now. He wants to ensure it’s operating as efficiently as possible, so his war can continue.

Shoigu moves to the security council, where he’ll replace Patrushev. Technically it’s a more important role, but in reality it’s a demotion.

More importantly, by replacing Patrushev, it gives Putin more command over a powerful body within Russia’s leadership structure.

The security council was seen by some as a pseudo shadow cabinet. He’ll now have an ally in post, albeit a disgruntled one.

Finally, to me, this speaks to Putin’s confidence right now. The start of the new presidential term, he’s clearly emboldened. But it also screams instability.

Parliament’s approval of the new appointments are all but guaranteed, as there is virtually no opposition.

By law, the government in Russia had to resign just before Mr Putin was sworn in as president for another six-year term on Tuesday.

Read more:
Putin’s Victory Day parade is bid to display might despite isolation
As Western weapons trickle through, Putin seizes chance to hit Kharkiv

Analysts have said he is looking to project an image of stability and satisfaction with his team’s progress, with Mikhail Mishustin remaining in post as prime minister on Friday.

As he continues to confirm his top team, Mr Putin has also proposed Sergei Lavrov remain as foreign minister.

Valery Gerasimov, the chief of Russia’s general staff, will remain in his position as well.


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