There had already been speculation about this, but it remains a spectacular personnel change: more than two years after the start of the war of aggression against Ukraine, Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin fired his defense minister and close confidant Sergei Shoigu. Shoigu’s successor is to be the previous deputy prime minister, Andrei Beloussov, as the upper house of the Russian parliament announced on Sunday evening. Putin’s suggestions for the composition of the new Russian government were received there.

Shoigu is now to become secretary of the National Security Council; Nikolai Patrushev has previously held this position. Patrushev’s new assignment will be announced shortly, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Lavrov remains Russian Foreign Minister

A new government is due to be formed because the old one constitutionally resigned after the presidential election in mid-March. In the vote, which was overshadowed by allegations of fraud and manipulation, the 71-year-old Kremlin boss was ultimately declared the clear winner; A few days ago he was officially sworn in for his fifth term in office. There are a few personnel changes in the new government – but none of them are nearly as important as the replacement of Shoigu. Putin, for example, continues to hold on to Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin. The 74-year-old Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will also remain in office after 20 years.

An official reason for Shoigu’s dismissal was not given. However, there had been some speculation about a possible dismissal of the 68-year-old Shoigus, who had been defense minister since 2012. A few weeks ago, one of Shoigu’s deputies, Timur Ivanov, was arrested on corruption charges. Observers interpreted this as a sign of power struggles within the Russian military and security apparatus. Some of them saw Shoigu’s chair shaking.

Putin and Shoigu have a close friendship

Putin and Shoigu have a close friendship; the two have often ostentatiously spent their free time and vacation together. Putin held on to the minister despite all the defeats and mishaps, especially at the start of the war in early 2022. After the first major Ukrainian successes on the battlefield, there had been repeated speculation about a replacement, but Putin is considered loyal to his friends. The fact that he is now making Shoigu head of the Security Council is seen as a face-saving solution for his long-time companion.

Putin had previously shied away from this step for a long time – even after the situation escalated a year ago in June with an uprising by the head of the Wagner private army, Yevgeny Prigozhin. Prigozhin had accused Shoigu of massive corruption, weak leadership and failure in the war. Prigozhin lost the power struggle with the Russian military leadership and, like the entire Wagner leadership, died in August in a plane crash that has not yet been explained. But the scandals involving abuse of office and misappropriation of funds as well as theft in the Russian military leadership were not forgotten.

Shoigu: Tactical successes in the war

Shoigu was initially seen as the supposed winner of the power games – also because he had repeatedly been able to demonstrate tactical successes in the war. The Russian army under Shoigu has recorded territorial gains in the Kharkiv area in the past few months. Some observers said that the dark clouds over the minister had cleared again.

Chief of General Staff Valeri Gerasimov was always considered the most important man on Shoigu’s side. On Sunday evening it was initially unclear whether he would keep his position or whether he would have to leave.

Russian independent experts saw the Kremlin chief’s current decision not so much as a dissatisfaction with the military leadership, but as a step towards greater control of spending in this war. The announced new Defense Minister Beloussov is considered one of the most prominent economists in the Russian leadership.

Andrei Beloussov is to be Shoigu’s successor

For some experts, the appointment of Beloussov as Shoigu’s successor also suggests that Putin wants to win the war primarily through production in defense factories. “In his way of thinking, this is logical because the economic bloc proved to be more effective in the war than the security and military apparatus,” said expert Alexander Baunow. Putin’s strategy is therefore not to put pressure on Ukraine through the mobilization of new soldiers, but through the capacities of the armaments complex.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also made it clear that defense spending in Russia is now so high that someone like Beloussov is the man to control the area. The defense department now occupies a key position in Russia’s security spending, said Peskov. “This requires particularly important decisions.” Today, the winner on the battlefield is the one who is open to innovations and their rapid introduction. That is why Putin chose a civilian in office who has had a significant impact on economic development in recent years. Beloussov was, among other things, economic advisor to Putin and most recently first deputy head of government.