An academic economist with no military experience: What you need to know about Andrei Belousov, Putin's unexpected new defense minister

International analysts saw the decision as a reward for loyalty for the official, described as one of the closest to the current Russian president.

Vladimir Putin shook up his cabinet after replacing Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who had been in office since 2012, to appoint Andrei Belousov. The decision was surprising from Moscow outwards since Belousov is an economist and academic who had never worked in the Army or other law enforcement agencies.

The president of Russia began his most recent mandate days ago as the head of the country, which he has ruled uninterruptedly since 2012, although he also did so between 1997 and 2008. Putin, 71, began his new six-year term with the appointment of Belousov, assigning Shoigu to head the Kremlin's security council.

Who is Andrei Belousov?

An economist and academic of 65 years of age, he previously served as assistant to prime ministers during the 1990s, minister of Economic Development in 2012, and then deputy prime minister from 2020. However, he always focused on the economic world.

Indeed, he is responsible for shaping the economic strategy of recent years, in particular by increasing the degree of state presence in the economy.

Belousov also shares with Putin the expansionist hunger. He was reportedly the only member of the president's economic team to quickly support the annexation of the Crimean peninsula to Ukraine in 2014.

Why Belousov?

According to Sam Greene, professor of Russian politics at King's College London, this is a message abroad that aims to show that the wartime economy is essential for Russia.

“Belousov’s appointment is, in part, a recognition of how central the war has become to the economy and how central the economy is to the war. But it’s also more than that. It’s an attempt to reshape what has become one of the key dividing lines within Putin’s power elite," he said in an interview with The Washington Post.

Konstantin Sonin, a Russian economist who knows the now Minister of Defense, spoke with the same medium.

When describing him, he said he has “no charisma, political following, or political base,” although he has Putin's complete trust.

"And among those people who were squarely for industrial policy, state involvement, and state-led growth, he was by far the most competent one,” he added.

"The war of attrition is won with the economy"

Greene's comments were joined by Alexandra Prokopenko, former advisor to the Central Bank of Russia, who expressed herself in a thread on X, formerly known as Twitter. "Putin's priority is war; the war of attrition is won with the economy. Belousov is in favor of stimulating demand from the budget, which means that military spending will at least not decrease, but rather increase," she wrote.

Jake Sullivan, Joe Biden's national security advisor, spoke from Washington, D.C., choosing to highlight that the Kremlin is managed under an "opaque system" in which only Vladimir Putin makes the decisions.

“He can move professionals into different roles, but at the end of the day, he seems obligated and determined to continue trying to inflict a brutal war of aggression on Ukraine. We will accept what comes and support Ukraine together with a coalition of countries and see what happens," he added.