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Putin rewards loyalty as defense minister quits after Ukraine rout



Putin rewards loyalty as defense minister quits after Ukraine rout

Defense Minister Shoigu is part of Russian President Putin’s inner circle. (file)


His forces have made three humiliating retreats in Ukraine over the past year and according to US officials nearly 200,000 of their men have been killed or wounded, but thanks to President Vladimir Putin, Russia’s defense minister is still in the job.

According to Western officials, veteran Kremlin watchers and former Western military commanders, the Russian leader has several reasons to keep 67-year-old Sergei Shoigu in office: He is fiercely loyal, helped Putin become president, and Ukraine But it is not their right to decide alone.

“Loyalty always trumps competence in Putin’s inner circle,” said Andrew Weiss, a Putin expert at the Carnegie Endowment think-tank who held various policy roles on the US National Security Council and wrote a book about Putin.

Weiss said that Putin has publicly acknowledged that he finds it difficult to fire people and usually handles such matters personally.

“Many people in senior positions, all whose job performance left much to be desired, including Shoigu, benefit from this under-appreciated sentimental side of (Putin’s) personality,” he said.

The Russian Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment on Shoigu or its own performance in Ukraine, where its forces are trying to capture the town of Bakhmut and the town of Vuhledar to the east.

Shoigu, a hardline hardliner trained as a civil engineer, has held top positions in Russia’s power structures since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and served as emergency minister under late President Boris Yeltsin.

Appointed defense minister in 2012, he is part of Putin’s inner circle and has enjoyed hunting and fishing holidays with him in his native Siberia.

Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of R.politic analysis firm and a keen Kremlin watcher, said Putin prefers to work with people he knows well, even if they have flaws.

“For him, it is psychologically easier,” she said, pointing to a profile of Shoigu in which she highlighted that in 1999 Shoigu was one of the leaders of a political party that propelled Putin to the presidency. Did.

“Ever since Putin has been in some sense indebted to Shoigu,” Stanovaya said in a profile for the online outlet Riddle.

“The latter is guaranteed a comfortable place in Russian politics – provided he does not make any serious mistakes.”

A source close to Russian officials, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media, cited an old Russian saying as another reason why he thought it was unlikely that Shoigu Will be replaced anytime soon.

“You don’t change horses in mid-stream,” he said, a reference to the need to ensure continuity in turbulent times. The source said the Russian military is learning from its mistakes and successfully adapting.

A senior NATO diplomat and a senior EU official said they viewed Putin and his generals as the main decision-makers on Ukraine anyway, rather than Shoigu.

Stanovaya said Shoigu was focused on managing his vast ministry and its relationship with the defense industry, meaning responsibility for the Ukraine campaign was shared.

“Putin himself works with generals (on Ukraine), not just one or two figures, and sometimes gets involved in a (battlefield) situation at a lower level,” she said.

Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov was last month appointed to run the war in Ukraine, with Sergei Surovikin, nicknamed “General Armageddon” by Russian media, demoted to deputy commander of the operation .

Both men, unlike Shoigu, are career military officers. Sergei Markov, a former Kremlin adviser, said that Surovikin was heavily involved in Ukraine despite his demotion.

‘Sequence of defeats’

The Kremlin says it will achieve its goals in Ukraine with what it calls a “special military operation” and has dismissed Western estimates of its casualties as exaggerated. Russian forces still control one-fifth of Ukraine and Kiev is suspected of gearing up for a major new offensive.

However, the invasion of Russia is widely regarded as an ineffective light on Moscow’s army, which was beaten back from Kiev, routed into northeast Ukraine, then forced to surrender the southern city of Kherson. .

Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, has been one of Shoigu’s fiercest critics, claiming that his own men, who have led several attacks in eastern Ukraine, are far more effective than the regular army .

Prigozhin has refrained from personal attacks in recent weeks since apparently being asked by the Kremlin to step down; He had previously called top army officers “bastards” who should be sent to the front barefoot with machine guns.

Igor Girkin, a former Federal Security Service officer who helped launch a conflict with a Moscow-backed separatist insurgency in 2014 and is subject to US sanctions, has also repeatedly questioned Shoigu’s competence.

Girkin wrote in his blog this month, “I would really like to know when this … slacker will finally have a court martial for the way he ‘prepared our army for war’.”

Ben Hodges, a former commander of US forces in Europe, told Reuters that he thought both Shoigu and Gerasimov would be fired because they had not enabled the armed forces to “carry out the task given … by poor performance.” Not surviving.” of the Russian army”.

Hodges and Rupert Jones, a retired Major-General who served as Britain’s Assistant Chief of the General Staff, criticized what they said was the Russian army’s poor initial planning, strategy, tactics, logistics, equipment, as well as There was another failed mobilization campaign. Corruption problems.

Jones said, it was “inconceivable” that a Western defense minister could keep his job under such circumstances.

“He would have been sacked, he would have fallen on his sword because he had seen his failures, or the media or the public would have been looking for blood,” he said.

Despite Moscow’s mistakes in Ukraine, Jack Watling, a senior research fellow at the London-based RUSI think-tank, said Shoigu “massively increased” the military’s capabilities and oversaw complex but successful operations before Ukraine.

“So it wasn’t all a bang,” Watling said.

But he said that Shoigu had exaggerated the new strength of the army.

“The problem is that Putin and (Chief of the General Staff) Gerasimov have also believed those myths and have an overestimated sense of their own abilities.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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