Andrey Belousov.—AFP
Andrey Belousov.—AFP

PARIS: President Vladimir Putin’s nomination of top economic official Andrei Belousov as defence minister is a sign of the importance the Russian leader places on the war economy in gaining the upper hand in what he expects will be a long conflict against Ukraine, analysts say.

It is unclear if outgoing defence minister Sergei Shoigu’s move to head the national security council is a demotion, while the future of its previous chief Nikolai Patrushev, a shadowy but powerful figure and an ardent hawk, is also murky. The changes, announced just days after Putin was inaugurated for an unprecedented fifth term following March elections denounced as rigged by opponents, come as Russia is seeking to rattle Kyiv with advances into northeastern Ukraine.

Why Belousov?

Andrei Belousov has since 2020 occupied the post of deputy prime minister in charge of the economy. Like his immediate predecessors as defence minister he has no background in the military but also no past in the Russian security services.

The new defence minister has no background in the military, but also no past in Russian security services

His priority at a time when Russia is planning to ramp up the defence budget to account for some 30 per cent of total government spending will be to fine tune procurement and boost the domestic defence industry to win success on the battlefield.

Putin “needs to shift even further to a war economy and efficient military spending — and Andrei Belousov is one of his most trusted economic officials,” Ben Noble, Associate Professor of Russian politics at University College London, said.

In an unusual late-night briefing to explain a decision that initially stunned many observers, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin had chosen Belousov to ensure the defence ministry was open to “innovation”.

“Putin’s goal is to enhance arms production effectiveness and optimally meet military needs,” wrote Tatyana Stanovaya, founder of the R. Politik consultancy. “In this context, Belousov is a logical choice.”

Analysts said that the appointment indicates that the Kremlin is preparing Russia for a years-long war against Ukraine where the balance in weapons supplies and production may determine who emerges triumphant.

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2024

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