Putin Fires Longtime Ally Shoigu As Defense Minister, Names Little-Known Successor


(RFE/RL) — Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose military has been criticized at home for a perceived lack of progress and heavy losses during its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, announced that he was replacing longtime ally Sergei Shoigu as defense minister.

The Kremlin said that Shoigu, 66, would be replaced by former First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov, 65, a little-known politician who specializes in economic matters.

Shoigu, who has been defense minister since 2012 and has been leading Russia’s military through its full-scale invasion of Ukraine that began in 2022, has been named to head Russia’s Security Council, which advises the president on national security matters.

The Kremlin said that as part of Shoigu’s Security Council duties, the former defense chief will advise on matters involving military-industrial issues.

He will replace Nikolai Patrushev as head of the Security Council. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Patrushev’s next position will be announced in the coming days.

Russia’s upper house of parliament, the Federation Council — which also announced the changes — said Putin has proposed reappointing Sergei Lavrov as Russia’s foreign minister.

British Defense Secretary Grant Shapps said Russia’s next defense chief will be another Putin “puppet.”

“Sergei Shoigu has overseen over 355,000 casualties amongst his own soldiers & mass civilian suffering with an illegal campaign in Ukraine,” he wrote on X.

“Russia needs a Defense Minister who would undo that disastrous legacy & end the invasion – but all they’ll get is another of Putin’s puppets.”

Russia analyst and economics professor at the University of ChicagoKonstantin Sonin said on X that the changes illustrated the Kremlin’s thinking: “Things are not going according to Putin’s plan, but he will endlessly rotate the same small group of loyalists.”

“Putin has always feared to bring new people to the positions of authority — even in the best of times, they must have been nobodies with no own perspectives. Toward the end of his rule, even more so,” Sonin added.

Jimmy Rushton, a Kyiv-based foreign policy analyst, wrote that “Shoigu’s replacement with a (relatively experienced and apparently competent) economist pretty clearly signals Putin believes victory in Ukraine will come via outproducing (and outlasting) Ukraine and her Western allies.

“He’s preparing for many more years of war.”

Rob Lee, a senior fellow at Foreign Policy Research Institute, said he did not see the move as necessarily a demotion for Shoigu, pointing out that he’s been handed additional powers in his new job.

“This doesn’t appear to be designed as a demotion for Shoigu, who not only received an important position as secretary of the Security Council but also will retain oversight of domestic and foreign defense issues, taking that from the new minister of defense,” he wrote.

The actions must be approved by the Federation Council, but both houses of Russia’s parliaments are considered rubber-stamp bodies for Putin’s wishes.The council said that “senators will hold consultations on the candidates proposed by the president at meetings of the committees on May 13 and at a meeting of the Federation Council on May 14.”

The moves come after the Russian government officially resigned following Putin’s inauguration on May 7 for the fifth time in a ceremony to kick off a new six-year term that was boycotted by most Western countries over his war in Ukraine and an election victory they rejected as being orchestrated to provide him a landslide result.

Russian lawmakers on May 10 approved Mikhail Mishustin as prime minister on May 10, hours after Putin nominated him for reappointment.

Shoigu’s future as defense minister had been closely watched over the past year following the struggles of the military in Ukraine and other issues.

Although not directly implicated, Shoigu’s Defense Ministry came under scrutiny after it was reported that Russian law enforcement officials had detained Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov on suspicion of taking a bribe.

The next day, the Basmanny district court in Moscow sent him to pretrial detention until June 23 after charging him with receiving a bribe on an especially large scale.

Shoigu is considered close to Putin, with whom he has taken hunting trips in the past. He is one of the founders of the United Russia party, which was the main pro-Putin force in parliament in the first two terms of his presidency.

Peskov said the Kremlin wanted to appoint an economic expert to head the Defense Ministry in the face of rising costs related to Russian security measures.

“This demands special attention,” he told reporters. “The Defense Ministry should absolutely be open to innovation, to the introduction of all advanced ideas.

“At this stage, the president has decided that a civilian should run the defense ministry,” he added.

Anatoly Serdyukov, who preceded Shoigu as defense minister from 2007-12, also had a background in economics and had served as head of the Federal Tax Service from 2004-07.


RFE/RL journalists report the news in 21 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established.

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