Why did Vladimir Putin fire Sergei Shoigu, his Defense Minister and friend? – rts.ch

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, in office since 2012, was fired on Sunday evening by Vladimir Putin. A decision which surprised experts by its temporality, because Russian forces are currently on the offensive in Ukraine.

From the first weeks of the conflict, Sergei Shoigu’s place at the head of the Russian Defense Department seemed compromised. While the Kremlin’s objective is to seize Kiev in a lightning operation and overthrow Volodymyr Zelensky, Russian troops face fierce resistance, until they are completely pushed back from the outskirts of the capital.

A bitter failure which was followed in August and September 2022 by dazzling Ukrainian counter-offensives towards Kherson (south) and in the Kharkiv Oblast (north-east).

A year later, in the summer of 2023, and while the Russian army was no longer able to advance on the front, a new crisis broke out with the mutiny of Yevgeni Prigojine. The boss of the Wagner paramilitary group, who has been publicly attacking Sergei Shoigu for months, constantly insulting him on social networks while emphasizing his “incompetence”, decides to launch his troops in the direction of Moscow, before finally backtracking.

>> Listen again to this report from La Matinale from May 2023 on the tensions between the general staff and the Wagner group:

The Russian army appears weakened by losses, setbacks and tensions between the general staff and Wagner / La Matinale / 2 min. / May 9, 2023

Beyond these serious but nevertheless occasional crises, Sergei Shoigu has also been very contested by the army since the start of the invasion. He is criticized in particular for not being part of the seraglio. Sergei Shoigu has never had a military career and owes his rank of general to his previous role as Minister of Emergency Situations, between 1991 and 2012.

Finally, the Minister of Defense is also the constant prey of criticism from commentators and other nationalist military bloggers, who denounce his weakness and his lack of audacity in the Ukrainian war.

Despite these dark clouds gathering over Sergei Shoigu, Vladimir Putin will continue to place his trust in him for more than two years, until his decision on Sunday.

>> Watch the 7:30 p.m. report on the dismissal of Sergei Shoigu:

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, in office since 2012, was fired on Sunday by Vladimir Putin / 7:30 p.m. / 2 min. / Monday at 7:30 p.m.

A long friendship

For Kremlin specialists, Sergei Shoigu’s longevity at the Ministry of Defense is due above all to the special ties he maintains with Vladimir Putin. The minister has long been considered not only a political ally of the president, but also one of his few friends within the Russian elite.

A friendship staged on numerous occasions in communication operations, the two men being photographed together shirtless, sunbathing in Siberia, hunting, fishing, or even playing for the same ice hockey team.

>> Read again on this subject: On vacation in Siberia, Vladimir Putin takes care of his communication

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks with Sergei Shoigu after a Night Hockey League exhibition match on Red Square in Moscow, December 29, 2018. [REUTERS via Spoutnik – Alexei Nikolsky]

Sergei Shoigu has acquired the trust of Vladimir Putin for many years. He is in fact the longest-serving minister in the history of the Russian Federation. First appointed in 1991 by Boris Yeltsin as head of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, he gained nationwide popularity, often traveling to the scene of natural disasters.

Since Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, Sergei Shoigu has been in the first circle of the faithful. In 2003, he co-founded the president’s party, United Russia.

Misconduct and corruption

Despite these strong ties, the Russian president therefore took the decision to dismiss Sergei Shoigu from his position as head of Defense. For Alexandre Baunov, Russia expert at the Carnegie Center, the mistakes and mistakes in Ukraine were too serious to be forgiven.

“Classical Kremlinologists believed that the clouds over Shoigu had cleared. That after the failures of 2022 and the coup of 2023, the situation had improved. But nothing has been forgotten Prigozhin’s coup has not been erased from memory,” he explains in a publication on; Telegram.

“This is a sign that Putin is listening to what is being said and understands that Shoigu had to leave the Ministry of Defense, where he was simply tolerated,” explains Dara Massicot, an expert at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia research center, on X.

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Vladimir Putin’s choice could also have been dictated by the desire to tackle corruption in the Defense Ministry. In April, Timur Ivanov, one of Russia’s 12 deputy defense ministers, was arrested by the authorities and charged with “taking bribes on a large scale”, a crime punishable by 15 years in prison.

In charge of military construction projects for a long time, Timur Ivanov had already been singled out in 2022 for his expensive lifestyle in an investigation by an organization of opponent Alexeï Navalny.

On Tuesday, the Kremlin also announced the arrest of General Yuri Kuznetsov, in charge of human resources. He is suspected of “criminal activities”, according to the TASS news agency.

A photo made available by the press service of the Moscow City Court shows Russian Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov during a hearing on May 8, 2024. [KEYSTONE - Tribunal municipal de Moscou]
A photo made available by the press service of the Moscow City Court shows Russian Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov during a hearing on May 8, 2024. [KEYSTONE – Tribunal municipal de Moscou]

Dismissed from the Ministry of Defense, Sergei Shoigu was immediately appointed secretary of the Security Council, a position previously held by Nikolai Patrushev (See box). A very honorable position which will give Sergei Shoigu direct access to the president, but which nevertheless carries many fewer prerogatives.

For Dara Massicot, the departure of Sergei Choïgu was very gentle. “We gave him a very respectable position. And it was done after the Victory Day parade. I even think that the dismissal was delayed for that,” she judges.

On May 9, 2024, Sergei Shoigu was able to be present for the last time as Minister of Defense at the Victory Day military parade, which in Moscow marks the Soviet victory against the Nazis in 1945 [REUTERS - Maxim Shemetov]
On May 9, 2024, Sergei Shoigu was able to participate for the last time as Minister of Defense in the Victory Day military parade, which in Moscow marks the Soviet victory against the Nazis in 1945 [REUTERS – Maxim Shemetov]

An economist for a war economy?

To replace Sergei Shoigu as head of Defense, Vladimir Putin has appointed economist Andreï Belousov. In a statement, the Kremlin explained that “the explosion of Russia’s defense budget” justified appointing an economist at its head and that Andrei Belousov would help make the Russian army “more open to innovation” .

Andrei Belousov, 65, was an economic advisor to Vladimir Putin for a long time. Prior to his appointment, he served as Russia’s first deputy prime minister. Known to be hardworking, the new Minister of Defense is known to be favorable to economic planning and a certain state interventionism.

>> Review Antoine Silacci’s analysis in the 7:30 p.m. on this subject:

Russian Defense Minister dismissed: analysis by Antoine Silacci, head of the international section
Russian Defense Minister dismissed: analysis by Antoine Silacci, head of the international section / 7:30 p.m. / 1 ​​min. / Monday at 7:30 p.m.

During a press conference, Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesperson, explained that “Vladimir Putin wanted the Ministry of Defense to be under the leadership of a civilian, due to the need to modernize the army “.

For experts, this appointment is a sign that a long war is envisaged in Moscow. For Vladimir Putin, it therefore becomes essential to accelerate the adaptation of the economy to a war economy. For Andrei Belousov, this will mean being able to put in place policies capable of ensuring the increase in production of the military-industrial complex.

Tristan Hertig

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