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Putin sacks long-time friend, Shoigu, as Russia’s Defence Minister

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Putin (front) with Shoigu (back)

Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has fired his longtime friend as Russia’s defence minister in a wide-ranging reshuffle of his most senior cronies as Kremlin troops continue to advance in Ukraine.

Putin fired Sergei Shoigu, 68, on Sunday and appointed him as secretary of Russia’s national security council.

This new office is seen as a ploy to cage the once powerful position Shoigu who is facing increasing scrutiny over spending and contracts, with his ally and deputy defence minister, Timur Ivanov, accused by state prosecutors of taking kickbacks worth nearly $11 million.

He has nominated Andrey Belousov, 65, to replace Shoigu as defense minister in his new government, reports say.

Britain’s Defence Secretary Grant Shapps has predicted Moscow’s next defence minister will be another of Putin’s ‘puppets’.

The reshuffle of the military command is the most significant Putin has undertaken since his full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022.

The announcement came as thousands more civilians have fled Russia’s renewed ground offensive in Ukraine’s northeast that has targeted towns and villages with a barrage of artillery and mortar shelling.

Shoigu is to be put in charge of the Russian security council, replacing long-time ex-FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev, 72, an virulently anti-Western conspiracy theorist who is being moved to a new job.

Patrushev, perhaps Putin’s closest crony, is seen as a key architect of a war that has seen 450,000 Russians killed or maimed. He will be given a mysterious new job in several days.

Belousov – an economist with no visible military or security experience – was acting premier for three weeks when the PM Mikhail Mishustin has Covid in 2020.

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He is clearly close to Putin but appears an odd pick to win a war that is largely in a stalemate. He is appointed to root out corruption and reform the stagnant ministry but crucially he does not have any experience as a military strategist.

Patrushev’s son Dmitry, 46, becomes deputy premier combined with his previous role as agriculture minister.

Shogun’s deputy Timur Ivanov was recently arrested on corruption charges.

Putin proposed appointing Boris Kovalchuk to become chairman of the Accounts Chamber. His oligarch father, Yury, 72, is seen as Putin’s ‘wallet’.

The reshuffle, which is Putin’s biggest shake-up in years, comes as he starts his fifth presidential term and as the war in Ukraine drags on for the third year.

However, Putin clings on to doddery Sergey Naryshkin, 69, as director of the SVR Foreign Intelligence Service, and Alexander Bortnikov, 72, as head of the FSB – the two key security roles in his regime.

Swirling rumours that General Sergei ‘Armageddon’ Surovikin would be brought back as chief of staff were denied.

Putin’s spokesman said that General Valery Gerasimov, 68, seen as lacking in charisma, would remain at the helm.

In line with Russian law, the entire Russian Cabinet resigned on Tuesday following Putin’s glittering inauguration in the Kremlin.

He served in the government long before Putin emerged as Russia’s dictator.

His axing shows Putin is deeply worried about failures in the war, and likely about endemic corruption in his defence ministry.

Belousov’s appointment may mean dictator Putin aims to take a closer personal role in war tactics.

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The Kremlin tonight sought to stress that Shoigu remained pivotal to the war, and will continue to fulfil some military functions. But this may be a sop to his ego.

Long time foreign minister Sergei Lavrov will remain in place despite speculation that the veteran diplomat, 74, had begged Putin to pension him.

Putin is 71 and the appointments indicate the dictator’s failure to skip a generation in his key appointments for a new term that will last until 2030.


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