Daily Review: What Putin’s Inner Circle Shake-Up Could Mean

Daily Review: What Putin’s Inner Circle Shake-Up Could Mean
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a State Council meeting on the side of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, Sept. 6, 2022 (TASS News Agency pool photo via AP).

Russian President Vladimir Putin shook up his national security team for the first time since invading Ukraine more than two years ago, replacing Sergei Shoigu as defense minister with Andrei Belousov, an economist. Shoigu will replace Nikolai Patrushev as head of Russia’s security council. (New York Times)

Our Take

In an opaque personalist regime like Putin’s, any shake-up of the inner circle is subject to speculation. So it would be premature to read too much into Shoigu’s replacement and make wide-reaching conclusions about the state of Russian politics based on the reshuffle. These changes could be related to anything from corruption in the defense ministry, which under Shoigu is known to be rife with graft, to Putin starting a new term in office, making this an opportune time to make changes he has long been considering. In all likelihood, both factors probably contributed at least in part to the decision.

Still, the timing of this move is particularly noteworthy, since Russia is currently enjoying some momentum on the battlefield in Ukraine. So far this year, Russia has seized on the delay of U.S. military assistance to Ukraine to make gains along the frontlines in the eastern Donetsk region. And just this weekend, Russian forces began a new assault in the northeast Kharkiv region, leading Moscow to seize more square miles per day than at virtually any other point in the war, besides the very beginning.

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