Elation from Z-patriots at end of Shoigu era as Putin appoints new broom

Outgoing Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu during a Victory Day military parade on Red Square, Moscow, 9 May 2024. Photo: EPA-EFE/YURI KOCHETKOV

Outgoing Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu during a Victory Day military parade on Red Square, Moscow, 9 May 2024. Photo: EPA-EFE/YURI KOCHETKOV

Vladimir Putin’s surprise decision to replace veteran Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu with First Deputy Prime Minister Andrey Belousov on Sunday evening has been met with elation by ultranationalists and described as a “logical choice“ by one leading Russia analyst.

Shoigu’s removal as defence minister has been widely seen as an attempt to place Russia’s economy on a war footing and rein in spiralling defence spending as Russia launches a fresh offensive in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region.

After a brief spell as economic development minister in 2012–13, Belousov served as a presidential aide for economic affairs for seven years before his promotion to first deputy prime minister in 2020. An economist by training, Belousov, who has unusually never served in the military, has until now kept a relatively low public profile.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Belousov’s appointment was motivated by the need for “innovation” amid the spiralling costs of Russia’s war in Ukraine, which has seen defence spending rise to account for 6.7% of GDP, levels Peskov said were reminiscent of the “mid-1980s”.

Describing Putin’s objective in appointing Belousov as being to “enhance arms production effectiveness and optimally meet military needs”, senior Carnegie Russia Eurasia Centre fellow and founder of the R.Politik centre for Russia analysis Tatiana Stanovaya argued that the economist was a “logical choice”.

British historian and founder of Mayak Intelligence Mark Galeotti expressed a similar view, saying that the position of defence minister during wartime was “essentially a financial administrator’s job, and Belousov can do that”.

Shoigu’s removal was met with elation by Russia’s so-called “Z-patriot” community, with ultranationalist media magnate Konstantin Malofeyev calling it an “Easter joy” and saying Belousov’s appointment indicated that defence was “becoming the absolute priority of all state policy”.

“With competent planning, of which the new defence minister is a supporter, we’ll have both guns and butter”, Malofeyev concluded.

The Kremlin-linked Rybar Telegram channel said Belousov’s appointment indicated a “massive audit and restructuring of all financial models” within the ministry, adding that Belousov’s tendency to “always have his own opinion on many things, however unpopular” was “exactly what the Russian defence department needs today”.

Shoigu will now replace long-term Putin confidant Nikolay Patrushev as the head of Russia’s Security Council, with Peskov telling state news agency TASS on Sunday evening that a new role for Patrushev would be announced within the coming days.

While Shoigu is known to be a personal friend of Putin’s and was widely thought to have enjoyed a degree of untouchability, questions had been raised about his security in post since his deputy Timur Ivanov was arrested in April on charges of large-scale bribery amid rumours of treason.

Belousov’s appointment as defence minister and Shoigu’s move to the Security Council are expected to be confirmed by Russia’s Federation Council on Tuesday.

Editor in chief — Kirill Martynov. Terms of use. Privacy policy.