Putin's Survival Strategy: The Guardian Analyzes Russia's New Government

Putin is signaling to the world his intent to transform all of Russia into a war machine and his commitment to long-term strategic objectives

by Sededin Dedovic
Putin's Survival Strategy: The Guardian Analyzes Russia's New Government
© Handout / Getty Images

When Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was dismissed from his position and appointed as the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia this week, two big questions were on everyone's mind. What will his successor Andrei Belousov bring to the table, and where will the former Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, Nikolai Patrushev – who is reputed to be the second most powerful man in Russia and seen by many as a potential successor to Vladimir Putin – be placed? The second question has a clear answer.

Patrushev seems to have been sidelined. Yesterday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated that Patrushev has been appointed to the significant position of presidential aide for shipbuilding – barring any further unexpected moves, this is a significant reduction in role, assessed in an analysis for The Guardian by Samantha de Bendern, an associate in the Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House and a political commentator on LCI television in France.

The question of what Shoigu's dismissal will mean is a bit more complex, but it could be a case of Putin neutralizing an ally who has become too powerful. The Kremlin reshuffle was initially interpreted as a much-needed anti-corruption cleansing within the Russian security apparatus.

There were last month's arrests of Shoigu's close ally, Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov, and the reported detention on unspecified criminal charges of Yuri Kuznetsov, another high-ranking figure in the defense ministry this week.

Russian political analyst Mikhail Savva, however, insists that Shoigu's dismissal and Belousov's appointment as the new defense minister "have nothing to do with Shoigu's corruption," adding that "everyone steals in those circles." This is about two things: regaining control over military spending and removing any threat to Putin's power.

Belousov is described as a "bureaucrat among bureaucrats" of trust and "Putin's Albert Speer," who will elevate the Russian military-industrial complex to a new level of efficiency. Countless Russian pro-war bloggers have welcomed him as a technocratic manager who will undertake a complete revision of military spending and manage finances and procurement vital to the military but will leave military matters to the general staff.

By appointing an economist to head the Ministry of Defense who firmly believes that the state should be the main driver of the economy, Putin is showing the world that he is turning the whole of Russia into a war machine and digging in for the long haul.

For this, he needs a good technocrat who is primarily loyal.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Minister of defense of Russia Sergey Shoigu attends the Victory Parade© Alexander Aksakov / Getty Images

Indeed, unlike Shoigu, Belousov does not come with a power base or a clan of loyal followers.

He owes his position to Putin, he is an introvert who does not seek the limelight, and most importantly, he does not threaten to build a parallel power base with Putin. Vladimir Osechkin, a political commentator in exile closely connected to the security apparatus, explains that Putin is afraid of a repeat of events from last June when Evgeny Prigozhin led a rebellion.

So, if it seems odd to replace the defense minister while things are heating up on the front, it is precisely because of that success that Putin can now dismiss Shoigu. According to Ivan Preobrazhensky, a Russian political commentator and member of the Free Russia Forum, "Putin feared changing the top of the defense ministry while the front was unstable." All of this points to Putin's fear of power struggles within the Kremlin and an awareness that as he builds his absolutist power, there are cracks that could widen if preventive measures are not taken.

In this context, it is interesting to look at some of the other appointments in recent days. While Patrushev has been given the unenviable task of overseeing the construction of ships to replace those destroyed by Ukrainian drones, his son Dmitry has been promoted from agriculture minister to deputy prime minister in charge of agriculture.

Another dynastic positioning also occurred over the weekend when Putin appointed Boris Kovalchuk, the son of his closest adviser and chief financier Yuri Kovalchuk, as the head of the Russian Audit Chamber. He signals to them that they are safe for now, but by tying the next generation of leaders to his political survival, he reminds each potential threat of their place in carefully orchestrated balancing.

Mark Galeotti, director of the Mayak intelligence service and a historian specializing in Russia, explains that Shoigu is unlikely to inherit much power in his new role in the Security Council of Russia. Patrushev was considered very influential in that role, but that partly stemmed from his personality, as well as from his past as an old Putin confidant in St.

Petersburg and former head of the FSB. Those who think Putin would be open to negotiations over parts of eastern Ukraine and Crimea should keep this in mind when hoping for a quick negotiated end to this war. Putin needs war to survive.