Earthquake in Moscow: Putin replaces Shoigu and Patrushev. An economist, minister of defense

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced yesterday that he will replace the country's top defense and security officials from their posts, as Moscow's forces launched an offensive to seize territory across Ukraine before new Western weapons arrive in Kiev. In a statement on Sunday evening, Putin said he will remove Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who has overseen the Russian military since 2012. He will be replaced by Andrei Belousov, an economist with no military experience. Shoigu was appointed secretary of the Russian Security Council, an advisory body that advises Putin on military and strategic matters. Sensational, however, is the case of intelligence chief Nikolai Patrushev who was fired despite being known as one of Putin's closest and most aggressive confidants.

Kremlin spokesman Dimitry Peskov declined to elaborate on Patrushev's fate, saying only that details would be announced in the coming days. His son, Dmitry Patrushev, was promoted to deputy prime minister from the minister of agriculture as part of the same reshuffle. Nikolai Patrushev is from St. Petersburg, which is not surprising. He is the son of a veteran of the Great Patriotic War, (just like Putin) and obtained an engineering degree from the Naval Construction Institute, but was immediately recruited by the KGB in the Leningrad of that period. Here he took on the role of sector head in the fight against smuggling and corruption, while his young colleague Vladimir Putin dealt with counter-espionage. Their paths crossed again in Moscow in the 1990s, with Patrushev becoming Putin's most loyal deputy, both while running the government administration and the FSB.

Then when the current president assumed leadership of the government in August 1999, the succession to the head of the Secret Service was a formality. For some time Patrushev had been at the center of rumors and speculation according to which the relationship with Putin had deteriorated also due to the fact that it was Patrushev himself who convinced Putin to attack Ukraine which would have been conquered in a week. The appointment of Belousov, an economic advisor, who was promoted to the top defense post is interpreted as a sign that Putin is trying to change gear, more than two years after the start of the war against Ukraine and just under a year after a failed mutiny by mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin. “This move allows Putin to keep Shoigu on his side, while bringing in someone who may be able to manage the impact of corruption in the Russian Ministry of Defense,” Philip Ingram, a former colonel in British military intelligence, told Politico and NATO planner. Dimitry Peskov, commenting on the logic behind Belousov's appointment, said: «Whoever is most open to innovation is the one who wins on the battlefield».

Other key figures in Vladimir Putin's ruling system, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov, have so far managed to maintain their roles in the reshuffle, which comes soon after Putin sworn in for an unprecedented fifth term in history. In a speech from the Kremlin's golden throne room, Putin said his re-election was proof that Russian citizens “confirmed the correctness of the country's course.” Commenting on Shoigu's exit, British Defense Secretary Grant Shapps wrote in illegal campaign in Ukraine”.