The apparent sacking of longtime Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu by President Vladimir Putin was immediately seized on by the Western media as evidence that he was being punished for the so far failed “special military option.” Viewed as part of the wider shakeup of the upper echelons within Russia’s defense and security apparatus, however, it doesn’t seem that simple.

Putin has proposed appointing Andrey Belousov as Russia’s new defense minister. He is an economist who previously served as minister of economic development, Russian presidential aide for economic issues and the first deputy prime minister with responsibility for economic issues.

While the Kremlin won’t admit it, the economic scandals that have engulfed Moscow’s Defense Ministry of late, including the arrest of Timur Ivanov, Shoigu’s deputy, on corruption charges may have been a factor.


Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the decision to appoint Belousov was linked to the need to “make the economy of the security bloc part of the country’s [wider] economy,” as the defense budget draws ever nearer to the levels of the 1980s.

Peskov also announced that there would be no change in the management and coordination of military operational issues and activity within the defense ministry as Valery Gerasimov will remain Chief of the General Staff.

According to the independent Russian news site Insider, Belousov is described by Kremlin insiders as one of “Putin’s good soldiers” who will be completely reliable as the President’s representative and who can be entrusted with a total audit of military spending.

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The Head of Russia’s Defense Ministry personnel department was arrested during an overnight raid as part of a broader shake-up at the top levels of Russia’s military.

Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote on X (formerly Twitter): “It is now important for Putin to make sure that the enormous sums of money spent on war are not stolen,” before adding: “Belousov will now ruin his reputation forever as an accomplice.”


Some see the removal of Shoigu, who is a long-time ally and trusted advisor to Putin, as a victory for the Federal Security Service (FSB) who have been conducting a whispering campaign against him for some time. Others see his move to Secretary of the Security Council as actually bringing him even closer to the seat of power. He is replacing Nikolai Patrushev, who held the post for almost 16 years, and is now being moved to another yet unspecified job according to Russia’s TASS state news agency.

Alexander Vindman the US-based political commentator and current director of the Institute for Informed American Leadership (IIAL) think-tank wonders if Patrushev, who was once seen as a potential challenger to Putin, is being sidelined; a move that would both neutralize the threat he might pose to the President’s position and signal a reining back of some of the more extreme pro-war, anti-Western elements among the ruling elite.

Patrushev has been seen by many as the real power behind Putin, who had control of the levers of power while overseeing strategic and national security issues. Seen in that context we should perhaps not consider Shoigu’s move as sacking or demotion at all.


Peskov said that Shoigu will assume responsibility for the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, which is now directly subordinated to the president as well as being Putin’s deputy on the Military-Industrial Commission, potentially workin alongside or even replacing the current first deputy Dmitry Medvedev.

However, the Moscow Times quotes Tatiana Stanovaya, a Russian political analyst as saying on Telegram that giving Shoigu the Security Council job is is merely intended to keep the former key official close as he can't be sacked outright. Shoigu undoubtedly knows where many of the skeletons are hidden.

Apart from these changes, Sergei Lavrov remains as foreign minister and most top security officials remain in post: Alexander Bortnikov remains head of the FSB, Sergei Narishkin as Foreign Intelligence Service head, Konstantin Chuychenko as justice minister, Viktor Zolotov as head of the National Guard, and Alexander Kurenkov as emergencies minister, among others.

Putin’s proposals must be ratified by The Federation Council. Senators will hold consultations on the candidates in committee on May 13 and at a full meeting of the Federation Council on May 14. No one expects any of his nominees to be challenged.


The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily of Kyiv Post.

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