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Ukraine war at a ‘turning point’ after Putin’s purge & new ‘yes-man’ defence boss…threat to West has never been greater

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VLADIMIR Putin turned on his old friend in favour of a “yes-man” who isn’t afraid to take on the West at a “dangerous turning point” of the war in Ukraine.

Andrei Belousov may appear an unusual choice for defence minister – but it is a signal of darker times as Moscow digs in for the long haul, experts told The Sun.

Out with the old and in with the new - Andrei Belousov will take over as Russia's defence minister in a sudden shake-up of Putin's military top brass

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Out with the old and in with the new – Andrei Belousov will take over as Russia’s defence minister in a sudden shake-up of Putin’s military top brass
Vlad replaced his longstanding ally Sergei Shoigu in favour of a numbers man

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Vlad replaced his longstanding ally Sergei Shoigu in favour of a numbers man
Experts told The Sun Belousov's appointment is a sign Putin is preparing the Russian economy for a long war with Ukraine and the West

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Experts told The Sun Belousov’s appointment is a sign Putin is preparing the Russian economy for a long war with Ukraine and the West
Alan Mendoza argued there were 'clues' Shoigu (pictured bare-chested with Putin on a lake trip) had finally fallen from grace as Putin began a purge of his key allies

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Alan Mendoza argued there were ‘clues’ Shoigu (pictured bare-chested with Putin on a lake trip) had finally fallen from grace as Putin began a purge of his key alliesCredit: AFP
The Ukraine war is a 'turning point' and Putin wants to seize the advantage, Mendoza warned

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The Ukraine war is a ‘turning point’ and Putin wants to seize the advantage, Mendoza warnedCredit: Getty

On Sunday, Putin dismissed his closest confidante and longest serving minister Sergei Shoigu, 68, in a telling move that the Russian leader craved a “reset” of the Russian military machine.

Dr Alan Mendoza, executive director of the UK-based think tank Henry Jackson Society, told The Sun: “Putin has not been happy… a war that was supposed to take a few weeks has taken two years.”

The move to appoint little-known technocrat Belousov – the Kremlin’s economic darling – to the top job shows there is “going to be a new page turned in Russia’s war effort,” he argued.

Belousov, 65, has no military experience, “but is very much a yes man…mainly because he shares Putin’s views entirely.

“He’s somebody who’s backed Putin on hardline stances… he shares Putin’s views about the war, the need to win the war, and about the broader narrative that the West is a threat and that Russia’s enemies are encircling it.”

Choosing a spreadsheet-obsessed bureaucrat over a military man, Mendoza said is a “sign that Putin is now favouring the economic side of warfare” rather than the “actual warfighting”,

All this sets the scene for Belousov’s mission – to put the Russian economy on a war footing for a drawn-out fight in Ukraine and, in turn, a protracted conflict with Nato.

“Belousov is gonna be one of Putin’s puppets.

“Quite clearly, Putin is running this war effort himself. He’s the final decider, the arbiter. And it may be that Shoigu was clashing with him over certain things.”

General Shoigu has been shifted to a new role as secretary of the Security Council – a senior role that reinforced the message “you’re not completely on the outs with me, but we need a new start,” Mendoza said.

“It may be that Belousov is allowed off the leash,” Mendoza said, adding that he may use his newfound position to ramp up warlike threats to the West.

Ukraine troops fighting ‘fierce battles’ against Vlad’s invading forces in Kharkiv as thousands flee homes amid barrage

‘This is a new page turned for Russia’s war in Ukraine’ – analysis

DR Alan Mendoza, executive director of the Henry Jackson Society, told The Sun that Putin’s cabinet reshuffle indicates Putin believes the war in Ukraine has reached a “turning point”.

The dismissal of longstanding defence minister Sergei Shoigu in favour of Putin’s former economic adviser is a clear sign the Russian tyrant’s priorities have changed, Mendoza said.

“There’s going to be a new page turned in Russia’s war effort…It is a sign Putin is favouring the economic side of warfare,” he argued.

The war has now reached a “dangerous moment” where Russia may have a “slight advantage” over Ukraine.

The Russia expert added that Putin sees there is a “small gap” to push through and will try to push home this advantage starting with a reshuffle of military leadership.

Mendoza said: “Having changed defence ministers this time tells you that Putin sees this as a major kind of turning point in the war and he’s determined to carry it through, not simply on the military level, but also by reforming the military defence making it much fit for purpose, so that he can prosecute the war better for the next few months.”

A MILITARY PURGE

However, the writing was on the wall for Shoigu’s sacking – “there were clues,” Mendoza said.

The first strike was the dramatic arrest of Shoigu’s deputy Timur Ivanov, 48, a trusted inner circle oligarch.

He was charged with corruption last month and humiliatingly paraded through court in a break from tradition of prosecuting Putin’s top brass.

Ivanov will remain in custody as he awaits an official investigation but his arrest was widely interpreted as an attack on Shoigu.

“This is a very unusual thing to be happening,” Mendoza said, “it tells you Shoigu was falling from grace.”

Another purge was carried out this morning when a top Russian general was dragged out of his bed at 5am and detained on “criminal charges over state secrets”.

Lt-Gen Yuri Kuznetsov, 55, was a close ally of Shoigu and in charge of the ministry’s main personnel department.

However, his arrest is seen as linked to his previous role guarding military state secrets.

Suspicions that Putin is purging military officials have been heightened as two other key Shoigu deputy ministers have suddenly quit the ministry.

Loyal ally Sergei Tsalikov, 67, and first deputy for military-technical support Alexey Kryvoruchko, 48, have suddenly left amid suspicions they could face future prosecution.

Belousov is not an unusual choice, Mendoza argued, as he 'shares Putin's views entirely'

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Belousov is not an unusual choice, Mendoza argued, as he ‘shares Putin’s views entirely’Credit: AP
Putin put an absolute 'yes man' in charge of defence just as the war reaches a 'dangerous moment' for Ukraine

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Putin put an absolute ‘yes man’ in charge of defence just as the war reaches a ‘dangerous moment’ for UkraineCredit: AP
Shoigu had been defence minister since 2012 and has now been shunted to the senior, but less prominent role of secretary of the Security Council

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Shoigu had been defence minister since 2012 and has now been shunted to the senior, but less prominent role of secretary of the Security CouncilCredit: East2West

Keir Giles, a senior fellow at Chatham House’s Russia programme, said that while a lot of Western attention is given to Russian military shakeups, it is not “unusual” for a country in the middle of war.

Like Mendoza, Giles believes that Belousov’s appointment indicates a “prioritisation of the economic and management aspects of the defence minister as opposed to actual war fighting”.

However, he said, it is near-impossible to understand what is happening inside the gilded walls of the Kremlin.

“It’s like bulldogs fighting under a rug and we don’t know who is coming out on top until bones fly out.”

A SIGNAL OF A PROTRACTED WAR

Professor David Lewis, a Russia expert from the University of Exeter, argued that Belousov is an “unexpected” but “safe” choice for Putin as he takes greater charge of the war.

He said: “The choice of Belousov as defence minister is unexpected but one that makes sense…

“Putin is thinking about the war against Ukraine as a long-term effort – and as part of a much longer, historic confrontation with the West that could continue for years, if not decades.

“That means he needs a military that is both effective and economically sustainable. Belousov is a safe pair of hands to manage the budget and to clamp down on corruption.”

Lewis added: “The big winner from Putin’s reshuffle is Putin – with this move he makes sure that the MOD is fully under control and signals to everybody else that he is completely in charge.”

Putin’s military ‘purge’

AS Russia’s war in Ukraine stalls after 27 months, the conflict has seen the downfall of some of Putin’s most trusted cronies.

The fault lines in the despot’s regime have been exposed and it appears a paranoid Putin has been readying his defences, consolidating his power and seemingly purging the weak links.

Some have been relegated to backroom roles, others have fallen out the sky in planes and some have vanished.

Sergei Shoigu – On May 12, Putin fired his closest confidante and longest serving minister Sergei Shoigu, 68, and shifted him to a new role as Security Council Secretary.

Timur Ivanov – Shoigu’s deputy Timur Ivanov, 48, was charged with corruption in April. The arrest of the millionaire Putin crony was widely seen as an attempt to discredit his boss ahead of his dismissal.

Yevgeny Prigozhin – The Russian warlord and Wagner Group, 62, boss met his fiery end in a plane crash last August in what was seen as a Kremlin-ordered assassination after he turned on Putin in a short-lived mutiny.

Sergei Surovikin – dubbed “General Armageddon” and renowned for his merciless manoeuvres and known links to Prigozhin, Surovikin, 56, disappeared after the Wagner rebellion. He is believed to have been jailed, or possibly killed, with only one alleged sighting since last June.

Valery Gerasimov – Russia’s Chief of the General Staff, 68, has long been shunted out the limelight and has only spotted in public twice the year amid a slew of battlefield disasters.

General Yuri Kuznetsov was arrested this morning in what is feared to be a wider purge of military officials

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General Yuri Kuznetsov was arrested this morning in what is feared to be a wider purge of military officialsCredit: East2West

‘DANGEROUS MOMENT’

The major cabinet shake-up came only three days after Russia kicked off a new brutal offensive in the Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine.

Close to 40,000 soldiers and 500 tanks were massed along the border ahead of the large-scale ground attack Kyiv had feared was coming for weeks.

Putin sees this as a major turning point in the war

Alan Mendoza, Henry Jackson Society

Heavy fighting has been raging this week, forcing 6,000 residents to evacuate while Ukraine rushes in reinforcements to shore up its stretched defences.

Ukrainian soldiers said the Kremlin is using the tried-and-tested Russian tactic of launching human wave attacks – throwing its troops into meatgrinder assaults for gain territory at high cost.

Mendoza said: “It is a very dangerous offensive in the Kharkiv region right now, the Russians have made significant gains in in a very short time.”

Deciding on a military reshuffle at this “critical moment,” Mendoza said, is Vlad trying to seize the slight advantage his army has gained.

He argued: “At this moment the tide of battle appears to have changed. There’s a small gap before Western machinery starts getting to the Ukrainians.

“Putin sees this as a major kind of turning point in the war, and he’s determined to carry it through, not simply on the military level, but also by reforming the military defence…

“So he can essentially look at this as the start of his victory parade.”

The expert added: “This tells you the urgency of the the need for Ukraine to receive those Western weapons and supplies that have been so long promised.”

Russia began a new devastating offensive on the northeastern front on Friday

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Russia began a new devastating offensive on the northeastern front on Friday
Ukraine said Russia was throwing its troops into meatgrinder assaults suffering record losses

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Ukraine said Russia was throwing its troops into meatgrinder assaults suffering record losses
Ukraine released footage showing its forces blitzing Russian tanks

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Ukraine released footage showing its forces blitzing Russian tanks
Over 6,000 have been evacuated from Kherson in the last few days

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Over 6,000 have been evacuated from Kherson in the last few daysCredit: Getty

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