Putin’s New Defense Minister Signals Russia’s Plan for a Long War in Ukraine

By John Mercury May 15, 2024

To President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, appointing a new defense minister provides a new building block toward fighting a long war.

That was evident in Moscow on Monday when Andrei R. Belousov, the economist who was Mr. Putin’s surprise pick to lead Russia’s sprawling defense ministry, made his first public appearance in his new role and spoke about bureaucracy rather than the battlefield.

The pick reflects an acknowledgment that the military production that is supplying Russia’s war, and heating its economy, must be carefully managed to sustain a war of attrition with Ukraine. In addition to Mr. Belousov’s appointment, Mr. Putin also promoted Denis Manturov, the outgoing minister of trade and industry, to the post of first deputy prime minister — a sign that expanding industrial production would rise as a government priority.

At the same time, Russia is playing the long game on the battlefield. Along the front line, most recently in northeastern Ukraine, Russian forces are pushing forward slowly rather than attempting major breakthroughs to big cities, as they did at the beginning of the war — with disastrous results.

In televised remarks at Russia’s upper house of Parliament, which is expected to rubber-stamp his nomination, Mr. Belousov emphasized the bureaucratic details of the fast-growing military effort, and made no reference to the situation at the front. He described his priorities as improving standards of care and living for soldiers, veterans and their families.

The excessive paperwork that fighters faced in obtaining benefits, he said, ought to be addressed “in the framework of interagency electronic coordination.”


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