Putin replaces defense minister with economist in major military shake-up

Putin replaces defense minister with economist in major military shake-up

In a major overhaul of Russia's military leadership, President Vladimir Putin has removed his longtime ally Sergei Shoigu as defense minister and replaced him with a economist and former deputy prime minister. The surprise move represents the biggest shake-up to the military command structure since Russian troops invaded Ukraine over two years ago.

The Kremlin announced on Sunday that Andrei Belousov, who has no military experience but specializes in economic policy, will take over the defense ministry. Belousov, a 63-year-old veteran government official, previously served as first deputy prime minister overseeing the economy.

Putin framed the change as an effort to ensure the defense ministry stays "open to innovations and advanced ideas" at a time when Russia's military spending has skyrocketed due to the costly Ukraine war. Some analysts viewed Belousov's appointment as an attempt to bring better financial management and oversight to the defense establishment.

"It is now essentially a financial administrator's job and Belousov can do that," said Mark Galeotti, director of the Mayak Intelligence consultancy.

Shoigu, Russia's longest-serving defense minister, had faced withering criticism over the Russian military's struggles in Ukraine, including failed operations, heavy casualty tolls, and an inability to root out widespread corruption. However, his new role as head of Russia's security council was promoted as a lateral move to allow the 68-year-old to save face.

"The Kremlin wants the ministry to be led by an economist who knows how to streamline its operations," said a former defense official familiar with Shoigu. "The actual decisions on the battlefield are left to the military."

While replacing the civilian defense minister, Putin made no changes to the top military command. Valery Gerasimov will remain as chief of the general staff, the highest-ranking officer overseeing Russian forces in Ukraine.

The leadership restructuring came just days after Putin's inauguration ceremony launching his fifth presidential term, which is scheduled to last until 2030. It underscored how Putin is positioning Russia for a protracted conflict in Ukraine despite spinning military defeats.

The invasion of Ukraine has proven far more difficult than the Kremlin anticipated. To fund the operations, Russian defense spending has ballooned to an estimated 7.5% of GDP as the government pours resources into replenishing military stockpiles and ramping up weapons production.

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