Russia ready to 'play long game' in Ukraine as Putin proposes economist as new defense chief
Published: May 13, 2024 08:05 PM Updated: May 13, 2024 11:20 PM
 Candidate for Russia's defense minister Andrei Belousov is seen in the building of the Russian Federation Council, Lower House of the Russian Parliament on May 13, 2024. Photo: VCG

Candidate for Russia's defense minister Andrei Belousov is seen in the building of the Russian Federation Council, Lower House of the Russian Parliament on May 13, 2024. Photo: VCG

Russia is ready to "play the long game" in Ukraine and balance the sustainable demand of its military operation with economic development, said experts on Monday, as a senior official who specialized in the economy was proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin to become the new defense minister.

According to TASS on Sunday, Putin has proposed appointing Andrei Belousov, who previously served as the first deputy prime minister, as Russia's new defense minister. Russia's current defense chief Sergey Shoigu will replace Nikolay Patrushev as the Security Council Secretary.

Other heads of security ministries and services, as well as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, will retain their posts in the government. The president has also proposed appointing Boris Kovalchuk as the Chairman of the Accounts Chamber, a post that has been vacant for one and a half years.

Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the decision to appoint Belousov as the defense minister is linked to the need to "make the economy of the security bloc part of the country's economy." The current budget of the defense ministry is nearing the level of the 1980s, "which is not critical but... extremely important." 

Belousov's appointment "will in no way change the current coordination system" in terms of defense issues, Peskov noted. 

"On the battlefield today, the winner is the one that is more open to innovation, and therefore, at this stage, the president has made a decision for a civilian to head the Defense Ministry," Peskov said in response to a question about the new appointment.

 "Belousov has no military background and appointing him as the new defense chief is aimed at using his economic expertise and experience to guarantee that the costly military demands are met, and to ensure that economic development will not be affected by the military operation in Ukraine at the same time," Cui Heng, a scholar from the Shanghai-based China National Institute for SCO International Exchange and Judicial Cooperation, told the Global Times on Monday.

Belousov, a Russian economist and government official, was born in Moscow on March 17, 1959. He graduated in 1981 with honors from Moscow State University where he studied economics.

He had been in various positions relating to economic matters before in 2020 when Belousov was appointed Russia's first deputy prime minister, and has held this position ever since.

In his capacity as deputy prime minister, Belousov handled the development of the primary vectors of Russia's social-economic development, coordination of efforts to fulfill Russia's national development goals and the completion of national projects, matters of unitary financial, credit and monetary policy, and the regulation of financial markets.

From 2022, Belousov also supervised the development of high-tech transportation technologies and intelligent control systems.

The decision to appoint Belousov proves that Russia is getting ready to "play the long game" in Ukraine, Cui said. Russia needs to use limited economic resources to pay for the military operation, which nobody knows at what point will end, and it seems like the Kremlin believes that the conflict is unlikely to end this year, he noted. 

Yang Jin, an associate research fellow at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, echoed the view. Yang said that at this stage, Russia has realized that it cannot rely on purely military measures to solve the problem with Ukraine, but also needs to ensure sustainable development and a stable domestic society.

Some observers said Belousov is also one of the senior Russian officials who helped Russia successfully overcome the difficulties resulting from Western sanctions and realize economic growth for the country since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and this is also part of the reason why he has been selected for the key position of defense chief.  

"In the future, Russia will try to combine its military targets with the demands of economic development, to make economic growth support the military operation and to make the military operation give momentum to development and drive sci-tech development," Wang Xiaoquan, an expert with the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday.

"This could probably become a special wartime economy for Russia under a hybrid warfare situation," Wang noted. 

Chinese analysts do not believe that the change of defense chief will affect the military operation in Ukraine, as the whole military command structure of Russian forces has not been impacted, and Shoigu will continue playing a key role in the field of national security and remain close to Russia's top leadership. The new appointment also implied that Moscow seems not in a rush to end the conflict, whether Washington or Kiev want to continue to fight or not, experts noted.