Vladimir Putin proposes moving Russian defense chief in surprise reshuffle amid Ukraine war

MOSCOW, May 12 (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed a surprise new defense minister, nominating civilian Andrei Belousov, a former deputy prime minister who specializes in economics, for the job more than two years into the Ukraine war, the Kremlin said.

Putin wants Sergei Shoigu, defence minister since 2012 and a long-standing ally, to become the secretary of Russia’s powerful Security Council, replacing incumbent Nikolai Patrushev, and to also have responsibilities for the military-industrial complex, the Kremlin announced on Sunday.

The changes, certain to be approved by parliamentarians, are the most significant Putin has made to the military command since sending tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in February 2022 in what he called a special military operation.

The shake-up gives Shoigu a job that is technically regarded as senior to his defense ministry role, ensuring continuity and saving Shoigu’s face. Valery Gerasimov, the chief of Russia’s General Staff and someone with a more hands-on role when it comes to directing the war, will remain in post.

Sergei Lavrov, the country’s veteran foreign minister, will also stay in his job, the Kremlin said.

The appointment of Belousov, a civilian official known for his economic decision-making rather than battlefield knowledge, is the biggest surprise.

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, told reporters that the change made sense because Russia was approaching a situation like the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s, when the military and law enforcement authorities accounted for 7.4% of state spending.

That, said Peskov, meant it was vital to ensure such spending aligned with the country’s overall interests, which was why Putin now wanted a civilian with an economic background in the defence ministry job.

“The one who is more open to innovations is the one who will be victorious on the battlefield,” Peskov said.

The change is also likely to be seen by an attempt by Putin to subject defense spending to greater scrutiny to ensure funds are effectively spent after a Shoigu ally and deputy defense minister was accused by state prosecutors of taking a bribe.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Vladimir Putin proposes moving Russian defense chief in reshuffle

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