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Russia

Putin’s Cabinet Reshuffle: Strategy to Intensify Ukraine Conflict

President Vladimir Putin has replaced his defence minister with 65-year-old economist Andrey Belousov, as Russian troops seize villages in a surprise border raid that raised fears of an attack on Ukraine’s second largest city of Kharkiv.

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said that Sergei Shoigu had been moved from the post he has held since 2012 and would become the secretary of Russia’s Security Council.

The spokesman said, “Putin decided that the Russia ministry of defence should be headed by a civilian, the department should be open to innovation and advanced ideas.”

Mr Shoigu had been in charge of modernising the Russian army but the initial full-scale invasion of Ukraine was considered by many analysts to be a failure on his watch. Last month, Mr Shoigu’s deputy was arrested for corruption, making him increasingly vulnerable to being replaced.

Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, said: “Sergei Shoigu has overseen over 355,000 casualties amongst his own soldiers and mass civilian suffering with an illegal campaign in Ukraine. Russia needs a defence minister who would undo that disastrous legacy and end the invasion – but all they’ll get is another of Putin’s puppets.”

Russian attacks in north-east Ukraine have prompted the evacuation of almost 1,800 people from the Kharkiv area, the regional head has said.

Meanwhile, heavy fighting has continued in the border area following Russia’s surprise incursions on Friday. Kyiv has been expecting a Russian summer offensive for some time – including a possible attempt to capture Kharkiv. But Ukraine insists its forces are able to resist any attack. On Saturday, Russia said it had seized five villages near the town of Vovchansk in its latest offensive.

Putin Inaugurated for Fifth Term: The Contemporary Tsar

The details of Shoigu’s sacking emerged a week after Russian President Vladimir Putin was sworn in for his fifth term, following what many critics have labelled as a sham election.

Despite widespread condemnation, Putin’s claim to a landslide victory has extended his rule for another six years, solidifying his status as the longest-serving Kremlin leader since Joseph Stalin. This milestone comes after a tenure characterised by crushing any political opposition, and the initiation of a devastating war in Ukraine.

The inauguration took place in the opulent former throne room of the Russian Tsars within the Kremlin. Amidst the glitz and glamour, Putin delivered a speech reaffirming his ‘commitment’ to the Russian people, while simultaneously threatening international adversaries, vowing to defend Russia’s sovereignty at all costs.

“The destiny of Russia will be determined by ourselves only,” Putin declared, a veiled warning to Western powers critical of his regime. 

Putin’s rhetoric pledged his unwavering stance on his war against Ukraine, referring to it as a “special military operation” and praising those fighting for Russia’s ‘cause’. The ceremony was however marred by notable absences from Western diplomats, with Britain and the United States boycotting the inauguration.

Putin’s claim follow his recent nuclear sabre-rattling, further exacerbating tensions between Russia and the West. Despite the diplomatic snubs, Russian state TV broadcasted the ceremony live, highlighting Putin’s journey from his Kremlin office to the ceremony amidst a snowy Moscow backdrop.

The guests, numbering over 2,500, included senior Russian officials and notable figures such as American actor Steven Seagal, a long-time supporter of Putin, who lauded the event as “the best.” The presence of such figures alongside Russian dignitaries accentuated the spectacle of Putin’s continued reign.

Putin’s speech, while reaffirming Russia’s determination to chart its own course, also framed Russia’s actions in Ukraine as part of an existential conflict with the West, accusing them of attempting to subdue Russia’s might.

British ambassador Nigel Casey was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry, where he received a formal protest after Foreign Secretary David Cameron said last week that Ukraine had the right to use British weapons to strike targets inside Russia. “Casey was warned that in response to Ukrainian attacks on Russian territory with British weapons, any British military facilities and equipment on the territory of Ukraine and abroad” could be targeted, the foreign ministry said.

Isabella Egerton is a leading intelligence specialist and investigator focused on state led level security investigations. She has a proven track record in running complex multi-jurisdictional intelligence projects around the globe.