Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday dismissed his long-time defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, replacing him with Andrey Belousov, who previously served as first deputy prime minister. Belousov is an economist with no military background.

“Today on the battlefield, the winner is the one who is more open to innovation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, making the announcement. “Therefore, it is natural that at the current stage, the president decided that the Russian Ministry of Defense should be headed by a civilian.”

Meanwhile, Shoigu has been named the new Secretary of the Security Council, replacing Nikolai Patrushev, who would “transfer to another job,” Peskov said.

The spokesman also hinted that Russia’s military budget will likely increase from its current 6.7 percent of GDP. “We are gradually approaching the situation of the mid-80s when the share of expenses for the security bloc in the economy was 7.4 percent. It’s not critical, but it’s extremely important,” he said.

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Although Putin and Shoigu were considered close friends (going on fishing trips together and playing on the same hockey team) their relationship had been visibly strained in public appearances as the Russian military failed to achieve its objectives in Ukraine, in its full-scale invasion approaching its 27th month.

Shoigu was the country’s longest-serving minister, having held the position since 2012. Born in the Tuvan autonomous republic in Siberia to a father from that indigenous Turkic group, Shoigu was one of very few ethnically non-Russians to hold a post in the highest echelons of power in the post-Soviet Kremlin.

Russia 'Bogged Down' in Battle for Border Town, Ukraine's Army Chief Says
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Russia 'Bogged Down' in Battle for Border Town, Ukraine's Army Chief Says

Kyiv has been battling a Russian land assault on its northeastern Kharkiv region since May 10, when thousands of troops stormed the border, making their biggest territorial advances in 18 months.

The 68-year-old first rose to political stardom in 1994 when then-president Boris Yeltsin elevated him to Minister of Emergency Situations, and his face became familiar to Russians as he toured natural and man-made disasters across the federation.

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Russian ministry confirms 11 fatalities in Belgorod building collapse

Russia’s Ministry of Emergency Situations reported that 11 people were killed in the building collapse in the border city of Belgorod on Sunday, the first official announcement from the government that people had died.

The governor of the Belgorod region, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said that 20 people, including two children, were injured in what Russian authorities are calling a Ukrainian “terrorist attack.”

In its statement, the Russian Ministry of Defense said that the “Kyiv regime” carried out a “terrorist attack” on the residential quarters of Belgorod around 11:40 a.m. The ministry alleged that Ukrainian forces used the Tochka-U tactical missile system, the Vilha multiple-launch rocket systems, and the RM-70 Vampire and that Russian air defenses knocked down the projectiles. It said that the falling debris was responsible for destroying the ten-story building.

Afterward, the head of the Center for Countering Disinformation under the Council of National Security and Defense of Ukraine, said there was no evidence from the videos of the incident that would suggest an aerial attack.

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“There are no falling objects visible on the video from the cameras, accordingly, all accusations of the Russians about bombing by the Defense Forces are currently untrue,” he said.

Russians step up air attacks on Kharkiv suburbs, as invasion from northeast intensifies

At least four civilians have been killed in Russia’s weekend incursion across Ukraine’s northeastern border, as fierce ground battles and air assaults continue to mount.

About 150 combat engagements were reported Sunday across the Kharkiv, Chernihiv, and Sumy fronts especially, and including more than 30 engagements along various fronts further south, in Donetsk. The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) counted 57 airstrikes from Russian forces on Sunday, 41 attacks from multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS) and six missile strikes in all.

In the Chernihiv and Sumy regions, more than 20 settlements came under artillery fire, including Uhly, Hremiach, and Kindrativka. In the Kharkiv region, another 20 towns and villages were shelled with artillery and mortars, including areas near Lyptsi, Neskuchne, Starytsia, and Vovchansk.

Region governor Oleg Synegubov said “all areas” of Kharkiv’s border with Russia were now “under enemy fire almost around the clock.”

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Airstrikes reached just outside Kharkiv’s city limits.

Russian authorities claimed on Sunday its forces had captured four more villages in the Kharkiv region, as thousands of residents were evacuated. The Ukrainian army’s top commander countered that, although the situation was “complicated,” there have been no further Russian advances.

North Korea said to have sent about 6,700 shipping containers of weapons to Russia

South Korea’s Defense Minister Shin Won-sik claimed in an interview that Pyongyang has shipped an estimated 6,700 containers of ammunition to Russia ever since Putin met with North Korea’s leader in September. According to Ukrainska Pravda, that volume could hold approximately three million rounds of 152mm artillery shells.

A recent report states that 122mm artillery shells manufactured in North Korea in the 1970s appeared to be among the weapons that Russia has used in Ukraine. South Korean intelligence services have investigated those claims as they monitor the North’s military cooperation with Moscow.

In late March of this year, the Russian representative on the UN Security Council vetoed a measure that would continue the mandate of outside experts to monitor any violations of sanctions on North Korea.

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