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Putin axes defense minister, replaces him with an economist

Kwan Wei Kevin Tan   

Putin axes defense minister, replaces him with an economist
  • Russian leader Vladimir Putin shook up his national security team on Sunday.
  • Putin replaced his longtime defense minister Sergei Shoigu with an economist Andrey Belousov.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin is replacing his longtime defense minister Sergei Shoigu, 68, with an economist.

On Sunday, Putin named former deputy prime minister and economic development minister Andrey Belousov, 65, as his new defense chief.

"Today on the battlefield, the winner is the one who is more open to innovation," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said of Belousov's appointment, per state news agency TASS. "Therefore, it is natural that at the current stage, the president decided that the Russian Ministry of Defense should be headed by a civilian."

Shoigu, who served as defense minister since 2012, now runs Russia's Security Council instead, taking over from Putin ally Nikolai Patrushev. Details of Patrushev's new position, Peskov said, will be revealed "in the coming few days."

Besides leading the Security Council, Shoigu will represent Putin in the country's Military-Industrial Commission, which oversees the country's military industrial complex.

"He is deeply immersed in this work, he knows very well the pace of production of military-industrial products at specific enterprises and often visits these enterprises," Peskov said of Shoigu's new appointment, per TASS.

The sudden change in leadership on Sunday marks the first time Putin has shaken up his national security team since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

It also comes at a tenuous time for Russia's defense ministry. Last month, deputy defense minister and top Shoigu aide, Timur Ivanov was dismissed from his position after he was accused of bribery.

Shoigu himself was blamed by critics for Russia's lacklustre performance in its war on Ukraine.

The UK's defense ministry said in April that an estimated 450,000 Russian troops were wounded or killed over the course of the war. Back in February, the head of the UK's armed forces, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, said that 25% of Russia's vessels in the Black Sea had been sunk or damaged.

In June 2023, Wagner mercenary army chief Yevgeny Prigozhin led an aborted coup where he slammed Shoigu's leadership and called for his removal. Prigozhin died in a plane crash later in August.

Shoigu's departure, Peskov said on Sunday, "will in no way change the current coordinate system" of Russia's military strategy.

The replacement of Shoigu with an economist like Belousov comes as Russia reckons with its own transformation into a war economy.

On Sunday, Peskov told reporters that Belousov's appointment as defense minister was about "making the economy of the security bloc part of the country's economy."

"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%. It's not critical, but it's extremely important," Peskov said, per CNN.

Representatives for Russia's defense ministry didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from BI sent outside regular business hours.