Investiture of new-old Russian government. What to expect? Op-Ed by Anatol Țăranu



For the Republic of Moldova, the long-term continuation of the war in Ukraine is a worrying prognosis that is full of hard to anticipate risks. Certainly, Moscow’s efforts to politically destabilize Moldova by activating the Transnistrian and Gagauz separatist conflicts will continue. The political and financial support for the fifth column within Moldovan society will be preserved and increased, while the risk of extension of the Russian military aggression into the Republic of Moldova will persist...


Anatol Țăranu

After the pompous inauguration in his fifth term as president, Vladimir Putin reappointed Mikhail Mishustin as Prime Minister of the Russian government and also most of the members of the old composition of civilian ministers – appointments that seemed predictable and even disappointingly predictable.  But in a few cases, however, the Russian president managed to surprise everyone, especially when he dismissed Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu, who was transferred to the post of secretary of the Security Council, where he was to replace the influential Nikolai Patrushev. Another surprise was Andrei Belousov, who was transferred somewhat surprisingly from the post of First Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs to the post of Minister of Defense.

Russia lost more than 1 million lives due to pandemic

The international press abounds in the most contradictory explanations and forecasts regarding the latest metamorphoses in the Russian government team. For example, experts from the prestigious agency The Bell carried out an assessment of Mishustin’s first term as prime minister, which sounds surprisingly positive. At the same time, not few media outlets wrote that Mishustin’s first appointment as head of the Russian government, which was supposed to change something in governance after a long stagnation under Medvedev’s leadership, coincided with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the Russian government’s response to the challenge of the pandemic was a complete failure. Russia lost more than 1 million lives to the pandemic, more than any country in the world as a share of its population. No country in the world coped with COVID worse than Russia. On top of that, one of Mishustin’s deputies, who blocked the use of Western vaccines, meanwhile received money for a dubious Russian vaccine.

A special place in press reports is occupied by the observation about the fact that during Mishustin’s premiership, Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, forced one million people to leave the country in 2022-2023, and switched over to a “war” economy in which increased weapons production is financed by decreasing consumption and the quality of life of the citizens. The real costs of this transition are yet to be determined, while Russia’s political elite shows no signs of ending the war.

Incompetence and corruption became proverbial

At the same time, since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, enough complaints have accumulated among Russian Z-patriots against former war minister Shoigu, who failed to occupy Kiev “in three days”, while the Russian showed its unpreparedness for a full-scale war, just as the incompetence and corruption of the Russian military leadership became proverbial. Even the occupation of Bakhmut and Avdiivka didn’t change the negative attitude towards the former minister. Even though Putin values loyalty more than professionalism, in Shoigu’s case, the keeping of the post of minister of defense was considered to have more harmful effects than the resignation of a loyal minister, especially since this resignation meets the expectations of broad sections of Russian society. The arrest of Shoigu’s deputy and confidant, Timur Ivanov, on corruption charges was one of the signs of the expected resignation.

Over the two years of war, Shoigu has become the most toxic figure in the Russian leadership so that he is unlikely to succeed in becoming the second Patrushev, while the status of secretary of the Security Council will remain only an honorary exile. Using almost the same logic, Putin once removed the no less toxic Dmitry Medvedev from the government. Russian experts write that Shoigu’s departure from the Ministry of Defense comes as a shock to the generals. Even if Shoigu wasn’t punished harshly, but only moved to an honorable position at the Security Council, many of his subordinates involved in various corruption schemes alongside their former boss risk being treated differently. And Shoigu will no longer be able to protect them because, despite his new prestigious position as secretary of the Security Council, in reality he will no longer have real power or significant financial resources at his disposal.

Fall of the “architect” signals redistribution of influence

Putin proposed Andrei Belousov, a former deputy prime minister and a civil economist, for the post of minister of defense. Officially, this choice by the Russian president is explained by the need for the minister of defense to be absolutely open to innovation and new ideas in ensuring the needs of the army. But many experts are inclined to conclude that the new defense minister will find it difficult to understand the needs of the military — due to his lack of military experience. The military corporation is unlikely to enthusiastically accept the new minister-economist, especially since everyone expects an audit and purges on corruption grounds under the new manager. With this appointment, Putin makes it clear that he wants a more pragmatic, noncorrupt and professional approach to the needs of the military. But there is no guarantee that under the conditions of endemic corruption in the Russian military, this experiment will necessarily work.

An even more controversial decision is Nikolai Patrushevs’ transfer from the omnipotent position of secretary of the Security Council to the position of adviser to the president on issues related to shipbuilding. Patrushev, 72, is a close crony of Putin. He was his deputy in the presidential administration in the late 1990s and then in the FSB. Patrushev is called the “architect” of the invasion of Ukraine. According to sources in The Times and The Wall Street Journal, it was Patrushev who persuaded Putin to start the war in Ukraine, arguing that the United States was preparing to attack Russia and that Moscow should launch a “preemptive strike”.

Experts assess Patrushev’s new appointment as “a serious instrumental defeat” and an “honorable pension”, reminding that the stances of the former secretary of the Security Council collapsed after the revolt of the private military company Wagner, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin. The duty of the Security Council was to prevent such riots, this body being empowered with extradepartmental coordination between the bodies responsible for state security. But it was in this mission that Patrushev failed. At the same time, Patrushev’s fall signals a redistribution of functional influence among traditional clans at the top of the state pyramid and a significant reduction in the number of influential members of the informal group called “Putin’s Politbiro”.

For a protracted war against Ukraine

The restructuring of the Russian government management, which was recently arranged by Putin, aims to optimize Russia’s current political paradigm, but not to change it. All of Putin’s reshuffles directly indicate that he wants to strengthen the current configuration of power and uses the change of government only to increase the effectiveness of what already exists, but not for new approaches. According to analysts of the American Institute for the Study of War (ISW), such changes indicate that the Kremlin is trying to optimize the Russian economy and, above all, the industrial base of the defense sector so as to support a protracted war against Ukraine. This can also indicate the possible readiness of the Russian Federation for military operations against the countries of the North Atlantic Alliance.

The fact that Putin is not ready for the shift of the political paradigm that led to the war in Ukraine is also demonstrated by his decision to leave in their posts Aleksandr Bortnikov and Sergei Naryshkin, the heads of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), respectively. Sergey Lavrov, the country’s veteran foreign minister, also remains in office. This personnel policy pursued by Putin points to the Russian leader’s confidence in his own abilities, but also to the fact that he intends to continue the policy of war infinitely.

Risky forecast for Moldova

For the Republic of Moldova, the long-term continuation of the war in Ukraine is a worrying prognosis that is full of hard to anticipate risks. Certainly, Moscow’s efforts to politically destabilize Moldova by activating the Transnistrian and Gagauz separatist conflicts will continue. The political and financial support for the fifth column within Moldovan society will be preserved and increased, while the risk of extension of the Russian military aggression into the Republic of Moldova will persist. In such a situation, it is hard to expect a sustainable economic recovery capable of contributing to positive changes in the social status of large sections of the population.

And this already creates great risks to the perpetuation of the pro-European government, with the possibility of anti-European and pro-Moscow political forces returning to power in the Republic of Moldova. Against this background, the recrudescence of the Union project becomes more and more likely, as the only solution to save Moldova eastward the Prut River from the imperialist revisionism of Putin’s Russia and to integrate this space into the EU by politically returning into the composition of Romania.

Anatol Țăranu
doctor of history, political commentator

IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.

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