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“Putin's loyal soldier”: What we know about Russia’s future Minister of Defense Andrey Belousov

RU

With Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine already well into its third year, recently “re-elected” Russian president Vladimir Putin has initiated a partial reshuffling of his cabinet. The most notable move thus far involves the Ministry of Defense, where Sergei Shoigu will be replaced by Andrey Belousov, a senior public official who previously held multiple posts in the Russian government. Shoigu, who had been in his previous post since 2012, will now head Russia’s Security Council, replacing Nikolai Patrushev. While Putin’s latest staffing decisions still require approval of the Federation Council, they are largely regarded as a done deal. The Insider lays out what can be expected from Russia’s future Minister of Defense.

Belousov, 65, is known as a scholar of macroeconomics. He began his career as a forecaster and analyst, advising Yeltsin-era prime ministers Yevgeny Primakov and Sergei Stepashin before freelancing for Putin’s first two prime ministers, Mikhail Kasyanov and Mikhail Fradkov. In the year 2000, he founded the Center for Macroeconomic Analysis and Short-Term Forecasting. He also worked for Herman Gref at the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, headed the ministry in Dmitry Medvedev’s government (2012-2013), worked as Assistant to the President for Economic Affairs, and returned to the government as First Deputy Prime Minister in 2020. Twenty years ago, Belousov was a frequent and active participant in round tables and economic policy discussions in Moscow, says Konstantin Sonin, an economist and professor at the University of Chicago:

“[Belousov belongs to] a rare breed of competent and government-oriented economists of the older generation. I would say he was too competent to be elected to the Russian Academy of Sciences. While other older macroeconomists tended to focus on general observations, vague and unsubstantiated, Belousov's center operated with real-world numbers. At that time in Moscow, only foreign consultants and economic think tanks employing young experts could perform this work on a decent level.”

As an economic official, Belousov has consistently advocated for import substitution and a reliance on domestic demand. He is also known for his initiatives assigning additional deductions to the budget from the “excess profits” of large corporations. In 2018, he came up with the so-called “Belousov list,” proposing to seize 513.66 billion rubles [~$5.6 billion] in additional revenue from 14 metallurgical, chemical, and petrochemical companies “due to changes in external market conditions.” He proposed using this money for the implementation of Putin's “May decrees” — 218 objectives the Russian leader set forth in May 2012 after returning to the presidency for a third term. After Belousov’s initiative became known to the press, resistance from commodities companies displeased by the potential asset seizure prevented it from being adopted.

“What fools! Would you look at that — so many billions handled by such idiots,” presidential aide Belousov said in 2019 after the plan leaked. According to him, if the businessmen had simply called his office before they “leaked everything to the press,” he would have reassured them — but they “didn't even think of it.”

In 2023, however, Belousov’s idea for a tax on excess profits earned in previous years was brought to life, adding approximately $3.3 billion to Russia's federal budget. Belousov insisted that the measure was taken at the initiative of the business community: “They say, ‘Guys, rather than raise taxes, let us better chip in and pay.’”

Belousov's son Pavel and his wife own Claire&Clarté, an engineering consulting and digitalization company. Among its clients, Claire&Clarté has named the Ministry of Industry and Trade and state-owned corporations Rostec, Roscosmos, and Rosatom. “Andrey Belousov could use his position to influence his son's business. He was a member of the supervisory boards of Rosatom and Roscosmos,” investigative journalist Sergei Yezhov concluded.

Belousov keeps distance from all government factions and has no team of his own, a former government staffer tells The Insider: “He is a fully trusted Putin confidant who can be tasked with a thorough audit of military spending.”

Belousov is a fully trusted Putin confidant who can be tasked with a thorough audit of military spending

In the 1990s, Belousov was close to the Moscow Methodological Circle, an interdisciplinary school of thought founded by Georgy Shchedrovitsky in the late 1950s. He even penned an article for the group’s almanac. Sergei Kirienko, First Deputy Chief of Staff of Putin’s Presidential Administration, is also an admirer of Shchedrovitsky's ideas.

In terms of public relations, Belousov is the exact opposite of Shoigu. “He is extremely introverted and shuns publicity,” The Insider's interviewee shared. One can attempt to discern his beliefs from his scarce publications and speeches.

“The country was heading for disaster, which was two or three years away. It is impossible to live in a dysfunctional economy, covering all expenses with loans,” he said in 2023, describing the state of Russia's economy before 2000. “The year 2022 marks the beginning of a new phase in the development of our economy, our society. We can call it the stage of strengthening sovereignty and establishing all the elements to cement it. Sovereignty is not self-isolation. Sovereignty is the ability to pursue the country's national agenda and development goals in a changing world.”

Economist Sonin helps fill in the picture. “In 2006, Belousov joined the civil service — later than many. As economy minister, deputy prime minister, and acting prime minister in 2020, he never showcased his macroeconomic expertise, always remaining Putin’s loyal soldier,” Sonin commented.

As a high-ranking official, Belousov never showcased his macroeconomic expertise, always remaining Putin’s obedient soldier

Belousov's latest appointment as defense minister is “aligned with the regime's logic,” says political analyst Mikhail Savva. “Shoigu has been discredited by the efforts of the FSB [Federal Security Service] and deprived of influence over the army. This way, the FSB eliminated a serious competitor. Coupled with his relationship with Putin, his position as defense minister made him too strong a political figure. [Shoigu's removal] had nothing to do with corruption. Nothing whatsoever. In those circles, everyone steals,” Savva says.

Belousov's main job will be to drive innovations in the Russian army, Savva believes. “In the face of sanctions, this is a relevant but problematic objective. He will not be dealing with the military component because this is the mandate of the General Staff, where there are no changes,” he concluded.

Belousov has been under U.S. and European Union sanctions since 2022 for urging Russian oligarchs “to continue cooperating with sanctioned Russian banks» and supporting the annexation of Crimea in 2014. As The Insider's sources with ties to the government recall, Belousov confirmed to Putin that Russia had the economic capacity to withstand both the costly annexation of Crimea and possible sanctions afterward.

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