Putin’s Inner Circle Shake-Up

By Félix Maradiaga (Elected WLC Leadership Council member)

(May 13th, 2024) World Liberty Congress.-

In a startling development that may reveal fissures within Vladimir Putin’s regime, the Russian dictator has dismissed two of his closest and most loyal aides, Nikolai Patrushev and Sergei Shoigu, the latter serving until now as the Minister of Defense. Putin has appointed Andrey Belousov, an economist with no military experience, raising eyebrows across the European political spectrum.

This drastic change at the Defense Ministry comes at a critical juncture for Russia, as its military forces struggle to solidify gains in Ukraine—a nation they have illegally invaded, and which has resisted with a resilience that has undoubtedly confounded the Kremlin. These changes may also reflect Putin’s frustration with the lack of a quick victory over Ukraine, which was promised back in 2022. The removal of Shoigu, a pivotal figure in the unlawful invasion, seems to expose not just a crack in Russian leadership but also an alarm bell about the real state of a war the Kremlin has tried to paint as a success.

Analysts concur that Putin’s plans are unraveling. However, Putin is likely to keep shuffling his inner circle of loyalists without introducing fresh faces capable of independent judgment. Shoigu’s replacement suggests Putin believes victory in Ukraine will come through outproducing and outlasting Ukraine and its Western allies—in other words, preparing for many more years of conflict.

These shifts must be ratified by the Federation Council, but both chambers of parliament are under Putin’s control. Russian lawmakers also approved Mikhail Mishustin as prime minister on May 10, mere hours after Putin nominated him for reelection. These moves, surrounding Putin’s fifth term, have been rejected by most Western countries due to his illegal war in Ukraine and utterly rigged elections.

Yet, it’s unrealistic to expect these changes to alter the fundamentals of Russian politics. According to the British Defense Secretary, Grant Shapps, on his X account, Russia’s next Defense Minister will be another “puppet” of Putin. “Sergei Shoigu has overseen more than 355,000 casualties among his own soldiers and massive civilian suffering with an illegal campaign in Ukraine,” he wrote on the social network formerly known as Twitter.

Indeed, if Russia were a democracy, the new Defense Minister would use his position to help end the aggression war and undo the disastrous legacy of his predecessor, which has been bloody for Ukraine and even for hundreds of thousands of young Russians, many forced into war against their will.

Shoigu survived politically despite numerous military failures and the open challenge from the Wagner mercenary group in the summer of 2023, which culminated in the mysterious death of its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, under circumstances suggesting a Kremlin-orchestrated settling of scores. Since then, factions broken off from Wagner have been co-opted by the state, in a clear attempt by Putin to regain control and direct these forces towards his strategic objectives.

The wave of dismissals also includes Nikolai Patrushev, until now the chief of intelligence and one of Putin’s most hawkish and trusted advisors. This coincides with the corruption arrest of Timur Ivanov, the deputy defense minister and another Shoigu ally, further highlighting the internal turmoil and loss of cohesion among the Russian ruling elite.

These moves also suggest Putin’s attempt to reshuffle his pieces amidst a conflict showing no signs of resolution soon. According to the head of Ukraine’s ground forces, Lieutenant General Oleksandr Pavliuk, the critical phase of the war between Russia and Ukraine will arrive in the next two months. The West should capitalize on the weaknesses and divisions within Putin’s regime, providing robust support to Ukraine and intensifying efforts to halt the invasion. This involves not only military support but also strengthening economic sanctions that could force a real change in Russian foreign policy, including the seizure of Russian assets abroad that should be reassigned to Ukraine. The current situation demands a firmer and more decisive Western stance. Ensuring Ukraine’s victory must be the global strategic goal of utmost importance for the free world. Now is the time to act, not only to halt a bloody conflict but to ensure that the principles of justice and international law prevail.

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