President Putin may replace Sergei Shoigu as defense minister

Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to remove Sergei Shoigu as defense minister as part of a cabinet reshuffle, making him secretary of the Security Council instead.

Andrei Belousov, a former deputy prime minister who specializes in economics, will become the new defense minister, the Kremlin said on Sunday.

The shake-up comes as Putin begins his fifth term in office. In line with Russian law, the entire cabinet resigned on Tuesday after Putin’s inauguration in the Kremlin.

Belousov’s candidacy will need to be approved by Russia’s upper house of parliament, the Federation Council.

Shoigu was appointed defense minister in 2012, two years before Russia invaded and annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

One of Shoigu’s deputies, Timur Ivanov, was arrested last month on bribery charges and was ordered to remain in custody pending an official investigation. The arrest was widely interpreted as an attack on Shoigu and a possible precursor of his dismissal despite his close ties with Putin.

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Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Sunday that Putin had decided to give the defence portfolio to a civilian because the ministry should be “open to innovation and cutting-edge ideas” and Belousov was the right fit for the job.

Putin won the March election by securing 87 percent of the vote in a poll that analysts said lacked democratic legitimacy after several candidates opposed to the war in Ukraine were barred from contesting by the Central Election Commission.

The reshuffle came as thousands more civilians have fled Russia’s renewed ground offensive in northeastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv region, which has targeted towns and villages with a barrage of artillery and mortar shelling.

The intense battles have forced at least one Ukrainian unit to withdraw as Russian forces seize more territory across less defended settlements in the so-called grey zone along the Russian border.

By Sunday afternoon, the town of Vovchansk, among the largest in the northeast with a pre-war population of 17,000, emerged as a focal point in the battle.

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