Vladimir Putin removes Sergei Shoigu as Minister of Defense

Andrei Belousov, currently serving as the acting First Deputy Prime Minister, has been nominated as his successor.

Vladimir Putin and Sergei Shoigu.
Vladimir Putin and Sergei Shoigu. Photo courtesy: en.kremlin.ru

Vladimir Putin has removed Sergei Shoigu from his position as Russia’s Minister of Defense, as reported by the Federation Council on Sunday evening. Andrei Belousov, currently serving as the acting First Deputy Prime Minister, has been nominated as his successor.

Shoigu, in turn, has been appointed as the secretary of the Russian Security Council, according to RT news agency.

No further changes have been recorded in the list of cabinet positions proposed by Putin. His nominations include Vladimir Kolokoltsev for Minister of the Interior, Alexander Kurenkov for Minister of Emergency Situations, Sergey Lavrov for Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Konstantin Chuichenko for Minister of Justice.

Denis Manturov, who served as Deputy Prime Minister and led the Ministry of Industry and Trade during Putin’s last term, has been proposed for the role of First Deputy Prime Minister.

Shoigu is the longest-serving minister in the country and a close confidant of the Kremlin chief, who has frequently chosen him as a vacation companion, with their trips widely publicized. Until now, he has maintained an aura of being untouchable.

However, his failure to respond to the insurrection by Wagner Group mercenaries led by the now-deceased Yevgeny Prigozhin has dealt a significant blow to Shoigu, arguably more severe than the setbacks faced by the Russian military in Ukraine, for which he and the military leadership have faced harsh criticism from ultra-patriotic sectors.

Without having served a single day in the ranks of the Armed Forces, the now-former Defense Minister, a professional construction engineer, holds the rank of Army General, the highest in the Russian hierarchy, earning him the moniker “cardboard general” from his critics.

Born in the Republic of Tuva in southern Siberia, on the border with Mongolia, he grew up in a family of a local official of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, of which he was also a member and which served as a springboard for his meteoric rise.

At the age of 35, he was transferred to Moscow in 1990, where he became the vice president of the State Committee for Architecture and Construction of Russia. The following year, he was appointed head of the Russian Rescue Corps, a position that catapulted him to one of the country’s most popular figures.

Amid the collapse of the USSR, accompanied by floods, forest fires, and other disasters, Shoigu garnered media attention, and in 1994 his efforts were rewarded with the establishment of the Ministry for Emergency Situations, which he led until 2012. After nearly six months as governor of the Moscow region, he was appointed to lead the Defense Ministry.

Since then, the bond between Putin and Shoigu has only strengthened, as the Kremlin has emphasized by releasing images of their joint vacations, both in summer, where they can be seen fishing shirtless, and in winter, strolling through a snowy forest.

No other member of the Russian government has been publicly distinguished with such a level of familiarity with the Kremlin chief.

Shoigu has also not escaped corruption allegations leveled by the opposition against high-ranking Russian officials.

In 2015, the now-banned Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) of the late opposition leader Alexei Navalny published an investigation claiming that Shoigu’s daughter, Ksenia, purchased two plots of land in the most elite sector of Moscow’s outskirts for $9 million upon turning 18.

The FBK noted that the purchase being made after Ksenia reached the age of majority allowed Shoigu to exclude those lands from his mandatory public asset declaration.

Shoigu professes to be Orthodox, but his detractors claim he believes in shamanism, which is deeply rooted in Tuva, and that it has influenced Putin’s beliefs.

The setbacks during the 16 months of the war in Ukraine, despite Kremlin claims that “everything is going according to plan,” have sparked fierce criticism of his management.

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