From Kommersant, May 13, 2024, p. 1. Condensed text:

On Sunday evening [May 12], [Russian] President Vladimir Putin submitted to the Federation Council the candidacies of ministers and heads of [government] agencies who answer directly to the head of state and, in accordance with the Constitution, are appointed after consultations with the senators. . . .

Perhaps the main news related to the cabinet reshuffle since Vladimir Putin’s inauguration for a new term broke on Sunday evening: Sergei Shoigu, 68, who has been defense minister since 2012, is being replaced by former [first] deputy prime minister Andrei Belousov, 65. General of the Army Sergei Shoigu has been appointed [Russian] Security Council secretary by presidential decree; he will also be the president’s deputy in the Military-Industrial Commission, said presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov. Nikolai Patrushev, 72, who has held the post of Security Council secretary since May 2008, has been relieved of his post due to his transition to another job – exactly which [job] will become known in the next few days, Mr. Peskov said.

So General of the Army Shoigu will be replaced as defense minister by economist Andrei Belousov, who has for years worked at the Economic Development Ministry, from 2013 to 2020 was presidential economic adviser, and in 2020 joined [Russian Prime Minister] Mikhail Mishustin’s cabinet with the rank of first deputy prime minister (actually, he started working in the first half of May 2020 as acting prime minister while Mr. Mishustin received coronavirus treatment). Andrei Belousov is a councilor of state first class, which is the highest rank in the federal civil service. In the government, he was instrumental in laying a foundation for a structural transformation of the economy: During the shocks of COVID and sanctions, the official addressed market problems and fine-tuned measures to support Russian companies based on feedback. In the previous electoral cycle, Andrei Belousov worked on a systemic level to improve the investment climate to attract private capital to the economy: The capital investment protection and facilitation agreements that he initiated, which guaranteed businesses immutable conditions to implement investment projects (including with regard to taxes and tariffs), as well as compensation for infrastructure spending, are among the key mechanisms.

To create an integrated investment environment in Russia, a regional investment standard was introduced in Russian Federation regions at [Belousov’s] urging, which envisions work on investment projects according to a uniform model, including streamlining the procedure and providing support for investment projects throughout their entire life cycles. One of Andrei Belousov’s key ideas was to stimulate Russian exports to support competitive sectors. Export goals have partially transformed due to [anti-Russian] sanctions and the rupture of supply chains: In recent years, the official has engaged in expediting the logistical structure and building new transportation corridors to reorient Russia’s foreign trade toward new markets.

One of Mr. Belousov’s most recent projects as first deputy prime minister was putting into practice the idea of “technological sovereignty” – i.e., ensuring Russia’s economic development in key areas by relying on its own scientific and technological resources. For example, the official has formulated a national technological development concept, which calls for narrowing the gap between science and production through major innovation projects with state participation and promoting innovation support mechanisms in Russia: critical technologies (which are necessary right now) and end-to-end technologies (promising technologies of the future).

“Andrei Belousov is a technocrat. He is trusted by the president and has a good grasp of economics and administration: He is just the person the country needs in a situation where the special military operation [in Ukraine] (SMO) is dragging on, so to speak,” Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies and a member of the Russian International Affairs Council, says with confidence. Security expert Sergei Khrapach stresses that Andrei Belousov is “separated from technical relations, but most importantly, backstage and intraelite relations in the Defense Ministry.” The state is investing colossal resources in the sector, so a person “who would do an audit” is needed to run it, the expert says. The expert does not rule that that the shakeup in the Defense Ministry could be linked to, among other things, the criminal case against deputy defense minister Timur Ivanov (who was arrested April 24 on charges of accepting bribes in an especially large amount [see Vol. 76, No. 17, pp. 7-9]), and the escalation of the situation in the SMO zone.

For his part, political analyst Yevgeny Minchenko sees an analogy between Mr. Belousov’s new appointment and the appointment of Anatoly Serdyukov (defense minister from 2007 to 2012): “The ministry’s financial condition has to be put back on track. As Napoleon said, ‘Two things are important in war. The first is money. And I forget the second one.’ Right now, the Russian authorities’ strategy is to minimize losses. To this end, maximum attention needs to be given to logistical and technical support.”

Political analyst Aleksei Makarkin comments that the career of Sergei Shoigu, one of Russia’s political old-timers, is far from over: “The post of Security Council secretary presupposes direct access to the president.” It is worth noting that Mr. Shoigu will be the president’s deputy on the Military-Industrial Commission. Until now, these duties have been performed by deputy Security Council chairman Dmitry Medvedev. However, it will take Gen. Shoigu some time to settle in on the Security Council: Aleksei Makarkin points out that until now the new secretary has worked in large, resource-rich organizations, but the Security Council’s role is more analytical – importantly, under Nikolai Patrushev, this work included “a significant conceptual component, which largely determined the ideology of state governance.” The expert sees no analogy between the appointments of Andrei Belousov and Anatoly Serdyukov: Mr. Belousov’s experience is considerably more extensive – “this is hardly about a purely bookkeeping function.”

Mr. Belousov’s nomination for the post of defense minister on Sunday evening looked like the main sensation in the entire process of resetting the executive branch of government. Granted, Andrei Kartapolov, head of the State Duma defense committee, described the presentation of Mr. Belousov’s candidacy as “well thought-out, balanced and substantiated.” As for possible changes in the ministry’s structure, that “can be discussed when the legal process is complete,” Mr. Kartapolov believes.

Commenting on Andrei Belousov’s nomination, Dmitry Peskov said that right now, “whoever is more open to innovation and is quickest to come up with new ideas and implement them on an operational level wins on the battlefield, and this is why the president decided that the Defense Ministry should be headed by a civilian.” Mr. Belousov’s appointment will not change “the system of coordinates,” since the actual “military component has always been the prerogative of the chief of the General Staff,” where, according to the presidential press secretary, no changes are planned yet: General of the Army Valery Gerasimov is continuing to work [leading the General Staff].

Judging by the candidacies submitted to the Federation Council, no changes are expected in other government agencies, either: Sergei Lavrov’s candidacy has been proposed [to stay in] the post of foreign minister; Aleksandr Kurenkov – for emergency situations minister; [and] Konstantin Chuichenko –for justice minister. Sergei Naryshkin and Aleksandr Bortnikov will keep their posts as heads of the [Russian] Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and the Federal Security Service (FSB), respectively; Viktor Zolotov will stay on as Russian National Guard director. . . .

Vladimir Kolokoltsev will continue to work at the Internal Affairs Ministry, which he has headed for 12 years now: None of his predecessors in Russia’s contemporary history managed to retain this post for so long. . . .

It was also learned on Sunday evening that Boris Kovalchuk, deputy head of the oversight department at the presidential administration, was nominated for head of the Accounting Office. . . .

The Federation Council, which, in accordance with Art. 102 of the Basic Law updated in 2020, must hold consultations on the candidacies submitted by the head of state, said that [consultations] will be held “within the next several hours.” On the morning of May 13, the candidacies will be considered in committees and from all indications will be endorsed at a plenary meeting on May 14.