Putin Replaces Defense Minister with Economist Andrei Belousov

May 14, 2024 5:14 PM
President of Russia Vladimir Putin at the at the BRICS+ meeting on June 24, 2022.

Russian President Vladimir Putin replaced Sergei Shoigu with Andrei Belousov, an economist, as the Kremlin’s minister of defense over the weekend.

Shoigu’s replacement comes as Russian troops are slowly advancing in the north and keeping pressure on Kyiv’s forces in the southeast.

Belousov served as deputy prime minister ahead of his new appointment. He is seen as someone who “would be more open to innovation” in prosecuting the war, rebuilding the army and modernizing it, according to the news release announcing his new position.

Belousov previously focused on transforming Russia’s economy from peacetime to wartime to manufacture and buy ammunition, weapons systems and technology. He also used revenues from expanded energy exports, particularly to China, and weapons sales to Iran and North Korea to replace lost or destroyed inventory in the Kremlin’s arsenal from Tehran and Pyongyang.

The war has cost Russia more than $220 billion since it began, according to reports.

In that regard, Belsouov can be seen as a choice who can sustain Russia’s war effort with his success in mitigating economic and technology sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies and partners supporting Ukraine, The New York Times reported Monday.

Shoigu will chair the Russian equivalent of the National Security Council, but how much influence he will carry with Putin over military affairs is questionable. Inside Russia, he has been blamed for the army’s blunders in the weeks and months following the invasion and was the target of a mutiny last summer by the leader of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin. Prigozhin was killed in an airplane crash shortly after he called off a march on Moscow.

But in no domain has Russia’s military shown more vulnerability than in the Black Sea, where the Russian Navy has been targeted by unmanned maritime systems and anti-ship missiles.

While the Kremlin announced the launching of a new patrol vessel and missile-carrying corvette last week to replace Black Sea battle losses, Ukrainian intelligence put Russian Navy losses at more than $500 million from Ukraine’s Magura V5 drone alone.

Two weeks ago, the 18-foot Magura destroyed a Russian speedboat in Vuzka Bay west of the Crimean peninsula, according to Ukrainian Defense Intelligence. The footage on YouTube that accompanied the news release shows a Ukrainian naval drone approaching the anchorage of Russian boats. The release added that the Russians failed to stop the attack with small arms and possibly machine gun fire.

The release did not specify how many drones were sent on the weekend attack. The Ukrainians’ usual procedure with maritime drones is to attack at night and in swarms.

Unmanned aerial and maritime systems’ successes in destroying high-valued targets at a low cost to their operators are changing the nature of naval warfare, Adm. Christopher Grady, the vice chairman of the Joint Chief Chiefs of Staff, said during an April U.S. Naval Institute-CSIS Maritime Security Dialogue event last month.

Another Ukrainian intelligence unit operates the Sea Baby unmanned surface vessel, which also has carried out successful attacks on the Black Sea Fleet. The drones and anti-ship missiles have been credited with breaking the Russian blockade of the Ukrainian port of Odesa to allow the export of grains and oilseed to relieve Kyiv’s war-stressed economy.

Ukraine’s use of maritime drones “basically changed the course of the war,” Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute specializing in naval operations and new technologies, said in an interview with USNI News.

The Ukrainians “used emerging technology to deny a major power access to warm water” and Russia’s expected dominance of the naval war. What the Ukrainians have done in the naval war should be an example to other countries, from the United States to Saudi Arabia, of “how we can take advantage of these technologies” to stymie an adversary, Clark said.

In short, Kyiv “took advantage of the geography and often static targets” in the Black Sea, he added.

The Magura V5 is a new generation multi-purpose unmanned surface vessel developed in Ukraine. It’s controlled by a special portable remote control with screens and a set of keys and switches. The operator uses cameras to observe the situation around the drone and can control it until it hits a specific target, the release noted.

Another sector of Kyiv’s security forces employs the Sea Baby to attack Russian warships and auxiliaries and infrastructure, such as the 12-mile long Kerch Strait bridge linking Russian to Crimea. The attack on the bridge took place in July.

The Magura can carry up to 320 kilograms of explosives. The two Sea Baby drones striking the bridge each carried 850 kilograms of explosives. Magura’s range is about 500 miles and cruises at 25 miles per hour, while a Sea Baby with additional fuel tanks has a range of about 600 miles and can reach speeds above 50 mph.

The Associated Press estimated the cost of the Magura at about $250,000 and the Sea Baby at $220,000 each.

Both maritime drones have been modified to keep pace with changing Russian ship defenses and aerial surveillance. Russia’s jamming is designed to disrupt the drones’ GPS and send static to operators’ screens.

The Kremlin stepped up aerial patrols to sink the attackers before they can get close to targets. It’s unclear how successful the Russians have been in this defense. The drones themselves are barely visible to radar, patrol aircraft crews and watch-standers, but they do leave wakes.

Although the Ukrainians have displayed an unmanned submersible, called Marichka, there have been no reports of them using it in combat.

Forbes reported that in the attacks two weeks, at least one maritime drone was carrying an air defense missile. Whether that drone was part of the strike is unclear. A helicopter sank the missile-carrying drone.

Leo Daugherty, historian with U.S. Army Cadet Command in Fort Knox, Ky., said in an interview with USNI News that Moscow has lost about one-third of its fleet in the Black Sea since the war began. Before the invasion, it numbered 40 surface warships – including combatants such as cruisers to corvettes to mine warfare vessels and auxiliaries – and seven submarines.

In addition to the launchings last week, Russia has delivered other ships to the fleet to restore its number to pre-invasion levels.

Between 15 and 20 Russian warships have been sunk or severely damaged in the war before the latest reported sinking, news reports and Ukrainian intelligence say.

Several of the Black Sea Fleet’s surface ships and two submarines are operating in the Eastern Mediterranean and have escaped attack. They have not tried to re-enter the Black Sea since the war began.

Using missiles, unmanned aerial systems and maritime drones, the havoc that the Ukrainian security and intelligence forces have unleashed on one of Russia’s premier fleets has caused a major shake-up inside its navy, Daugherty added. The Black Sea Fleet commander was removed in April.

Vice Adm. Sergei Pinchuk, 52, born in Sevastapol and an experienced missile officer, now has the command.

John Grady

John Grady

John Grady, a former managing editor of Navy Times, retired as director of communications for the Association of the United States Army. His reporting on national defense and national security has appeared on Breaking Defense, GovExec.com, NextGov.com, DefenseOne.com, Government Executive and USNI News.

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