New Russian Defense Minister Aims for Final Victory in Ukraine

The new Russian Defense Minister Andrei Belousov, who replaced Sergei Shoigu, is an economist who has never served in the military and said today that he wants to modernize the armed forces and achieve victory in Ukraine

by Sededin Dedovic
New Russian Defense Minister Aims for Final Victory in Ukraine
© Bloomberg Television / Youtube channel

The new Russian Defense Minister Andrei Belousov, an economist with no military experience, said today that he wants to modernize the armed forces and achieve victory in Ukraine with "minimal" human losses. "The key goal of the special military operation (in Ukraine) is, of course, to achieve victory...

and that with minimal human losses," Belousov said, without specifying what level of losses would be acceptable, and Russia typically does not disclose the number of casualties in its ranks. Since the beginning of the attack on Ukraine in February 2022, numerous military experts have noted that the Russian army has suffered heavy losses, estimating them at tens of thousands of fatalities.

Ukraine, on its part, regularly claims to repel waves of deadly frontal attacks, as in recent days during the Russian offensive in the Kharkiv region. The new Russian Defense Minister also said today that he wants to "optimize" military spending.

"The first goal is to ensure the integration of the armed forces economy into the overall economy of the country. This is not simple and assumes cost optimization... which does not mean reducing them," the minister said.

Andrei Belusov attends the APEC Economic Leaders Informal Dialogue with Guests in the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center o© Lauren DeCicca / Getty Images

In his address to the upper house of parliament, he said his second goal is for the military economy to be maximally open to innovations, especially in digital technologies.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, immediately after assuming his fifth term, carried out sudden changes at the top of the defense sector, after more than two years of conflict in Ukraine. He replaced his loyal Defense Minister in that position since 2012, Sergei Shoigu, and appointed him Secretary of the Security Council, a body that gathers the highest Russian officials but without real powers.

Simultaneously, there was a purge in the ministry with accusations of corruption, with the deputy minister being arrested in April and today's announcement of the arrest of General Yuri Kunyukov, responsible for human resources.

Belousov was appointed at a time when the defense industry became crucial due to the attack on Ukraine and Western sanctions against Russia's economy. In addition, the Kremlin announced today that the former powerful Secretary of the Russian Security Council and former head of the FSB, Nikolai Patrushev, has been appointed as an advisor to Vladimir Putin.

This close associate of the president for several decades will be responsible for maritime construction, a function that is more in the background. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not explain why Patrushev was placed in the background but assured that his "vast experience" will play a "significant role" in shipbuilding.

Regarding Shoigu, Peskov assessed that it is "inappropriate" to speak of regression because the Secretary of the Security Council is "in direct contact with the head of state and has great responsibility."

Former Defence Minister of the Russian Federation, Sergei Shoigu (C), are seen inside the Russian Ministry of Defence building o© Handout / Getty Images

Shoigu has been criticized for the past two years, first for the failure of the blitz offensive in Ukraine, then for problems supplying Russian troops, and finally almost a year ago for the rebellion of the head of the paramilitary group Wagner, who seized the General Staff of the army in the southern city of Rostov and with his men set out for Moscow before changing his mind.

From 1981 to 1986, Belousov was a research intern and then a junior researcher at the Central Economic and Mathematical Institute of the Academy of Sciences in the laboratory for the simulation of "man-machine" systems. He was an external advisor to the prime minister for six years, from 2000 to 2006, and then deputy minister for economic development and trade for the next two years.

From 2008 to 2012, he was the director of the finance and economics sector in the office of the Russian prime minister. Then for a year, from 2012 to 2013, he was the Minister of Economic Development of Russia, and from 2013 to 2020, he was the Assistant to the President for Economic Affairs.

Andrei Belousov was born on March 17, 1959. According to Russian media reports, he never served in the military. Russian BBC editor Steve Rosenberg said Shoigu's dismissal was not surprising because his position had weakened, and there had been talk for some time that he might lose it.

The Russian campaign in Ukraine has been marked by military failures and significant losses in personnel and material. Having an economist as defense minister reflects a change in Kremlin priorities, Rosenberg says. The Russian economy is now on a war footing, so it is crucial for the Ministry of Defense to have enough money to finance the war.

Russian Ukraine