Putin Replaces Defense Minister in Rare Cabinet Shake-up

Putin Replaces Defense Minister in Rare Cabinet Shake-up

By Oghale May12,2024

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia replaced his minister of defense on Sunday as he shook up his national security team for the first time since his invasion of Ukraine.

Mr. Putin kept the minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, in his inner circle, tapping him to run the country’s security council.

Andrei R. Belousov, an economist who served as first deputy prime minister in the last government and previously was the economic development minister, was nominated to become the new defense chief.

It is unclear how much authority over the war effort Mr. Shoigu will retain.

The Kremlin also said that Nikolai P. Patrushev, a former K.G.B. colleague of Mr. Putin who has headed the Russian security council for 16 years, would be moved to another position to be announced in the coming days.

Russian commentators quickly expressed surprise over the appointment of an economist to oversee Russia’s sprawling military. The Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, told reporters that Mr. Putin made the decision because of the sharp rise in the defense budget over the last two years.

“It is very important to fit the economy of the security bloc into the country’s economy, to fit it in so that it corresponds to the dynamics of the current moment,” Mr. Peskov said.

It was a rare shake-up for Mr. Putin, who values loyalty and stuck by Mr. Shoigu despite Russia’s military failures early in the war and the embarrassing mutiny last summer by the mercenary chief Yevgeny V. Prigozhin.

The possible shift in Mr. Shoigu’s stature had been signaled last month, when the Russian authorities arrested one of his top deputies on corruption charges. His replacement with Mr. Belousov — long seen as one of Mr. Putin’s most trusted economic advisers — also highlights the Kremlin’s success in keeping the Russian economy afloat in the face of Western sanctions.

The change comes less than a week after Mr. Putin was inaugurated to his fifth term as Russia’s president. The Russian leader’s entire cabinet was dispersed as part of the government transition. Many but not all of his ministers were renominated to their posts.

Gen. Valery V. Gerasimov, the chief of the Russian general staff and the highest-ranking Russian military officer, will remain in his post, the Kremlin said.

The change likely spells reduced influence for Mr. Shoigu, the longest-serving minister in the history of the independent Russian Federation and a fixture of Russian politics since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Originally from the Tuva Republic in southern Siberia, Mr. Shoigu developed a national profile as a man of action by serving as Russia’s emergencies minister for more than two decades, from 1991 to 2012. He could regularly be found on television responding to the country’s natural disasters, in contrast to other ministers portrayed as paper pushers.

Mr. Shoigu’s tenure as Russia’s defense minister, beginning in 2012, was relatively uneventful until Mr. Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine in early 2022. The longstanding minister quickly became a lightning rod for criticism as the Russian military faltered in the early months of the war.

For months early last year, Mr. Prigozhin railed against him in videos posted on the internet, assailing him for incompetence in a fight for influence that ultimately ended with the mercenary leader trying to oust him by force in a failed uprising last summer. Mr. Prigozhin later died in a mysterious plane crash.

Suggestions that Mr. Shoigu’s influence was waning appeared to be confirmed last month, when one of his top deputies, Timur Ivanov, was arrested by Russian authorities and accused of bribery. Mr. Ivanov had long been in charge of military construction projects.

The leadership changes Sunday also may signal more muted influence for Mr. Patrushev, a hardliner with a K.G.B. background who has long been seen as a member of Mr. Putin’s inner circle.

But his son, who had been serving as Russian agriculture minister, was elevated to vice premier in the new government, increasing his power within the agriculture sector.

It is unclear what new position will be offered to Mr. Patrushev, who ran the Federal Security Service, the post-Soviet incarnation of the K.G.B., for Mr. Putin’s first two terms before becoming head of the security council. Mr. Patrushev’s new post will be announced in the coming days, Mr. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said.

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By Oghale

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