NewsPutin replaces Minister of Defense amid Ukraine conflict missteps

Putin replaces Minister of Defense amid Ukraine conflict missteps

Sergey Shoigu and Vladimir Putin
Sergey Shoigu and Vladimir Putin
Images source: © Getty Images | Contributor#8523328
12:02 PM EDT, May 13, 2024

Vladimir Putin dismissed Sergey Shoigu, the head of the Ministry of Defense, after 12 years, appointing civilian Andrey Belousov in his stead. "The Russian president is dissatisfied with the handling of his two-year invasion of Ukraine," writes the Financial Times.

War in Ukraine: Follow the latest updates in our LIVE REPORT

At the week's start, Putin, having extended his rule until at least 2030, reassigned Sergey Shoigu, the Defense Minister since 2012, to lead the Russian Security Council on Sunday.

The most substantial change in 15 years

"Putin’s appointments mark the biggest shake-up of his security officials in a decade and a half, even as his forces continue to advance against Ukraine’s outmanned, outgunned army," writes "Financial Times".

Analyses reveal Shoigu's perceived invincibility, attributed to his close relationship with Putin, including shared vacations in Tuva, Siberia, Putin’s native region, and his success in quashing a mutiny led by mercenary Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Shoigu faces "widespread anger"

The British newspaper comments that both Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, the Chief of the General Staff, "provoked widespread ire" among war advocates due to multiple military setbacks.

Michael Kofman, a Carnegie Endowment senior fellow focusing on the Russian military, pointed out that "the economic elite have navigated this war far better than the military brass."

"The nomination of Belousov means that Gerasimov will ultimately be replaced as well. Shoigu was incompetent but loyal. The same can be said about Gerasimov. In the past, Chiefs of the General Staff were replaced by the Minister of National Defence. Although Peskov said that Gerasimov would remain, Belousov will likely want to employ his person there, added Kofman," Kofman added.

Putin aims to bolster the war industry

"The New York Times" reports that Putin's decision to replace a military figure, deemed partially responsible for Russian setbacks at the war's outset by both pro-war commentators and Western analysts, with an economist "silently affirms the critical role of industrial capability in securing military victories."

NYT also recalls the attempted coup against Shoigu led by Yevgeny Prigozhin of the Wagner Group.

Kremlin readies for a prolonged conflict?

The American newspaper suggests that these changes signal Putin's readiness for more substantial alterations, indicating both the disciplinary and economic potential Russia possesses for sustaining a lengthy conflict.

"Shoigu was 'too big to fail'," wrote Alexander Baunov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center. However, he noted that in his new role, Shoigu will be "without real command powers and without a cash box".

Shoigu's tenure as the longest-serving Minister in the Russian Federation and a staple in Russian politics since the USSR's collapse adds to the gravity of this shift.

"Putin intends to shift the war's direction"

Politico interprets Belousov's nomination, a seasoned economic advisor, as Putin's signal to "alter the war's trajectory after two years of conflict with Ukraine and a year post-Prigozhin's failed rebellion."

"This move allows Putin to keep Shoigu on side, while bringing in someone who may be able to deal with the impact of corruption across the Russian Ministry of Defense," remarks Philip Ingram, a former British military intelligence colonel and NATO planner.

Commenting on Shoigu's exit, British Defense Secretary Grant Shapps cited his legacy of "over 355,000 casualties among his troops and extensive civilian distress from the unlawful campaign in Ukraine."

"The appointment of Belousov, a civilian official known for his economic decision-making rather than battlefield knowledge, is the biggest surprise. The change is also likely to be seen by an attempt by Putin to subject defence spending to greater scrutiny to ensure funds are effectively spent after a Shoigu ally and deputy defence minister was accused by state prosecutors of taking a bribe," writes the France24 portal.

Realignments ahead of the offensive

"The Guardian" observes that in the past two years, Russia has significantly upscaled its military production, with defense spending now estimated at 7.5 percent of the GDP.

A former defense official who worked alongside Shoigu told "The Guardian" anonymously that the Kremlin aims for the ministry's economic handling to enhance efficiency, leaving battlefield decisions to military leaders.

"Al Jazeera" highlights that the reshuffles occur as renewed Russian offensives in Ukraine's northeast prompt civilian evacuations.

Belousov aligns with Putin's vision for a "Great Russia"

According to Reuters, Belousov, previously the Minister of Economy and known for his close ties with Putin, shares Putin’s vision of a robust state and has collaborated with Putin’s leading technocrats eager for innovation and openness to new ideas. Belousov is credited with significant advancements in Russia's drone program.

Reuters reports that the elite shocks indicate Putin's intensified commitment to the Ukrainian war effort, aiming to leverage Russia's economic might. Despite Western sanctions aiming to cripple Russia's economy, these measures have so far fallen short.

Humiliating defeats for the Kremlin

The Associated Press emphasizes Shoigu's pivotal role in Putin's decision to invade Ukraine, expecting a swift victory over the lesser-equipped Ukrainian forces and a warm reception by the Ukrainian people. However, the conflict spurred Ukraine into fervent defense, embarrassing the Russian military with strategic withdrawals, notably from Kyiv, and a successful counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region.

Related content