In Russia, the Ministry of Defense now led by economists

Appointment this week of a new Deputy Minister of Defense in Russia. He is not a military man, which does not mean that operations in Ukraine will slow down.


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The building of the Ministry of Defense in Moscow (Russia), on the banks of the Moskva River.  August 2016 (TIM SOMERSET / MAXPPP)

The wave of change continued this week at the head of the Russian Defense Ministry, with the appointment of Oleg Saveliev as deputy minister. He is a man referenced at the top of Russian power: he was deputy minister of economic development around ten years ago, and he was at the Court of Auditors recently. He is a manager, a techno profile who will join Andreï Beloussov, who replaced Sergeï Choigou at the head of the ministry, and who is also an economist.

It is therefore not soldiers, but managers who will lead this enormous department. It swallows up an increasingly significant part of the state budget, but difficult to assess because 30% of the budget is secret. It is for these reasons – financial – that Vladimir Putin chooses this kind of profile: when you are waging a long war, you need economists. You need people to coordinate the Defense industrial machine which operates under public order. The Russian president said last week that the defense and security budget should represent 8.7% of Russian GDP in 2024, that’s huge.

Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov and General Yuri Kuznetsov, the army’s human resources boss, were arrested and charged with corruption recently. Timur Ivanov, who was in charge of defense construction, was a notoriously corrupt man. He had a civil servant’s salary and the lifestyle of a billionaire.

Until then, the authorities let it happen. But the Kremlin clearly wanted to send a signal. Another general was charged with fraud this week. The takeover of power by economists in the Ministry of Defense is not a new phenomenon in Russia: we had already seen this under the USSR, whose military budget was enormous, probably to the point of having contributed to the collapse of the system. Vladimir Putin is well aware of this, he who said a few days ago that it was necessary “finding the balance between guns and butter”.

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