NewsKremlin shakeup: Russia's war strategy banks on Western fatigue

Kremlin shakeup: Russia's war strategy banks on Western fatigue

Sergei Shoigu removed from heading the Russian Ministry of Defense
Sergei Shoigu removed from heading the Russian Ministry of Defense
Images source: © Getty Images | Contributor

12:44 PM EDT, May 17, 2024

"They have long been in an intermediate phase of war with Russia," said Sergey Ryabkov, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, regarding the West's involvement in Ukraine. This is another statement by the diplomat aimed at putting pressure on the West. At the same time, Putin is counting on the fatigue of Ukraine's allies.

"I warn that they are playing with fire. They have long been in an intermediate phase of war with the Russian Federation," Ryabkov said in an interview with the Tass agency.

"They do not realize that in order to satisfy their own geopolitical ideas, they are approaching a phase in which it will be very difficult to control what is happening and prevent a dramatic crisis," he added.

"This is another of his confrontational statements. Recently, he spoke in the context of the possibility of placing nuclear weapons in Poland as part of the "nuclear sharing" program. - If NATO's nuclear weapons are deployed in Poland, these weapons will become one of Russia's priority targets," he said. "NATO's nuclear sharing programs are purely destabilizing in nature," he added.

Russia plays on Western fatigue

This past week, Vladimir Putin dismissed Sergey Shoigu, the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation, who had held the position for 12 years. He appointed Andrey Belousov in his place, a technocrat without previous direct connections to the security bloc. Is this evidence of more severe losses for the Kremlin?

The dismissal of Sergey Shoigu from the position of Minister of Defense surprised commentators. As noted by The Economist, Vladimir Putin is not a supporter of radical changes in his close circle. He prefers to keep loyal associates close, even if they fall out of favor. Ultimately, Shoigu was sidelined, although he was given a soft landing in the form of the position of Secretary of the National Security Council.

According to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, the appointment of Andrey Belousov, a civilian minister, to the position of Defense Minister was a "natural choice" to meet the challenges of the war in Ukraine. As we read in The Economist, Peskov stated that "victory on the battlefield belongs to those who are open to innovation and the fastest possible implementation."

"A signal that the war will last long"

Belousov, a 65-year-old long-term ally of the president, seems to share his worldview. He is a macroeconomist involved in most of Russia's recent budgets. He is expected to consolidate supervision over Russia's military economy.

This year, Military expenditures are estimated at around $120 billion, constituting one-third of total government spending. As " The Economist notes," Aleksandra Prokopenko from the Carnegie Endowment think tank points out that Belousov is not a dove. He has worked with Putin since 2008 and was one of the few economists who supported the annexation of Crimea in 2014, and "has always believed that enemies surround Russia."

"Belousov's appointment is a signal that the war will last long," says Konstantin Kalachev, a political scientist and former Kremlin advisor quoted by "The Economist."

Moscow bets on war of attrition

The new appointment also suggests that Putin is doubling down on his war of attrition strategy. The president believes he can outproduce Ukraine and its Western allies. This approach has already paid dividends in producing certain types of weapons, such as artillery and guided "glide bombs," which have devastated Ukrainian forces, notes "The Economist."

"Belousov's appointment is a signal that the war is serious and for a long time," says Konstantin Kalachev, a political analyst and former Kremlin advisor, to "The Economist." "The calculation is that Ukraine's allies will get tired first."

Putin won't stop because he can't?

According to Elina Ribakova, an American think tank Peterson Institute for International Economics expert, Vladimir Putin might have put all his chips on the war in Ukraine. "Contrary to expectations that economic constraints would weaken Russia's ability to wage war, the specter of economic collapse could push Vladimir Putin and his entourage to redouble their efforts towards militarization and seeking further confrontation, even if aggression against Ukraine reaches a stalemate," Ribakova writes in an article published in the "Financial Times."

In her opinion, Moscow is effectively shifting its economy to a war economy. "Reversing the structural investments made for the war will be a huge challenge. For decades, Russia has struggled with underinvestment and regional inequalities (...) It seemed that previous nationwide projects and presidential decrees could not change this. Yet, so far, the war has done it," Ribakova concludes.

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