Who is Putin’s new defense minister Andrei Belousov?

Russian President Vladimir Putin tapped former Vice Prime Minister Andrei Belousov on Sunday to serve as Russia’s new defense minister, replacing long-time Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in a shake-up at the Kremlin.

Belousov, an economist, was a surprise pick, underscoring how Russia is shifting its economy on to a war footing as it launches a new offensive in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region.

Shoigu, who served as Russia’s minister of defense since 2012, was appointed to lead the Kremlin’s security council.

The announcement came just days after Putin, 71, was officially sworn into his fifth term, ushering in the beginning of at least another six years as Russia’s leader. He is now Russia’s longest-serving leader since Catherine the Great in 1796, surpassing the record held by former Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin.

What to know about Belousov

Belousov, 65, was born in Moscow, where he received a degree in economics and worked in academics for several years, BBC News reported. He spent time as an assistant to Russian prime ministers in the late 1990s and was later appointed minister for economic development in 2012, the outlet added.

In 2013, Belousov served as an aide to Putin until 2020, when he was appointed to serve as deputy prime minister, per the Associated Press.

In the latter role, he helped mold the country’s economic strategies and pushed for stronger state control and presence in the economy, the news wire noted.

In a 2018 leaked letter, he proposed redirecting about $7.6 million in “excess income” from 14 metallurgical, chemical and petrochemical companies, prompting widespread criticism, per multiple media reports.

Belousov has been regarded as one of Putin’s strongest allies and was reportedly the only person on Putin’s economic team who quickly supported the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, multiple media outlets reported.

He notably has not worked with the military or other law enforcement agencies, with his appointment being widely seen as a way to cement control over military spending as Russia experiences depleting wealth and high sanctions.

“Belousov’s appointment is, in part, a recognition of how central the war has become to the economy, and how central the economy is to the war,” Sam Greene, a professor of Russian politics at King’s College London, told The Washington Post.

“But it’s also more than that. It’s an attempt to reshape what has become one of the key dividing lines within Putin’s power elite,” he continued, in reference to the ongoing tensions within Russian government between economy-focused leaders and those oriented toward security and defense.

Analysts and those familiar with Belousov told the Post that Belousov has shown little to no political ambition.

“He has always been very calm and very professional,” Konstantin Sonin, a Russian economist who has met Belousov multiple times, told the Post. “And among those people who were squarely for industrial policy, state involvement, and state-led growth, he was by far the most competent one.”

She said Putin “trusts” Belousov, noting he has “no charisma, political following, or political base,” which fits Putin’s preference for leaders, the Post reported.

Asked about Belousov’s appointment and the Kremlin shake-up, national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Monday said: “It’s an opaque system. It’s run by one man, Vladimir Putin, he calls the shots.”

“He may move around professionals into various roles, but at the end of the day, he seems bound and determined to continue to try to inflict a brutal war of aggression on Ukraine. We will take whatever comes and support Ukraine alongside a coalition of countries and see what happens.”

Sullivan declined to give a direct answer when asked by a reporter about a comment from an adviser of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky who claimed the shake-up shows Moscow will try to scale up its war efforts.

“I don’t have a specific comment on the nature of this change-up in their government,” Sullivan said. “I’ve seen that speculation from the Ukrainians, and it’s not unreasonable, but I can’t draw any conclusions at this point. We’ll have to see what unfolds.”

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