Putin’s New Defense Minister Secretly Had Close Ties to Yevgeny Prigozhin—and Stalin


The wiry-looking economist with no military experience who Vladimir Putin has chosen to serve as his new defense minister is apparently a lot closer to the murky underworld of Russian security services than was originally thought.

Andrei Belousov was close to the late Wagner Group boss Yevgeny Prigozhin—so close, according to a new report by opposition investigative reporting group Dossier Center, that the two were sometimes spotted “sitting with their arms around each other.”

A source told the outlet Belousov, who served as first deputy prime minister prior to his rise to defense minister, oversaw Prigozhin’s activities. The two are said to have spoken to each other like friends and “their work meetings were reminiscent of family get-togethers with tea; they informally discussed all the issues, then nodded to the junior employees, who then compiled everything into a real report.”

Meetings between Belousov and the mercenary boss were also noted in Prigozhin’s calendar, according to Dossier Center.

The newly appointed defense minister is said to have taken an interest in the use of private military companies, having reviewed a report on the development prospects of PMCs in 2018, when he was serving as a special assistant to Putin in economic affairs. The report touted private military companies like Wagner as a crucial new way to take on America and the U.K. as more and more of the world is marked by “gray zones,” areas where the report notes international law “doesn’t fully work” anymore.

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It was not immediately clear who had written the report, or what Belousov’s ultimate role in reviewing it was. But the Kremlin’s growing empire of private military companies has been well-documented in recent years, with an explosion of little-known outfits secretly doing Moscow’s bidding while at the same time denying any government links. The war against Ukraine has only spawned more such units, with state corporations and regional leaders setting up their own private armies that ultimately answer to the Kremlin.

Belousov’s apparent interest in the topic perhaps comes as no surprise, as his grandfather, Pavel Travnikov, served in in the Soviet secret police under Josef Stalin, and he’s spoken openly about his grandfather at one point being a member of Stalin’s security detail.

In the wake of his appointment as defense minister, a former correspondent for the state-run TV channel Rossiya 24 recalled a sit-down with Belousov years ago in which a joke about Stalin taking revenge on a sound engineer who’d messed up his speech got a sour reaction from Belousov, who shot back that Stalin had “better” things to do than punish a sound engineer.

Belousov is also described as deeply religious, with one source quoted saying he begins every meeting with a prayer. That may help him spread Vladimir Putin’s message that Russia is a bastion of “traditional values” and religious faith that is engaged in a civilizational clash with the supposedly deviant West.

Documents cited by Dossier Center, however, suggest the new defense boss had real estate interests in Italy as recently as 2018, when he enlisted help to sell a villa in the town of Forte dei Marmi on the Mediterranean coast. In a strange twist, one of the interested buyers was a British citizen who shared a passport number with a bogus passport used by Mossad agents to carry out the assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai in 2013.

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