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Putin’s New War Weapon: An Economist Managing the Military

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In his first public appearance as the newly appointed defense minister, Andrei R. Belousov spoke about veterans’ benefits and overcrowded hospitals rather than a new offensive in Ukraine.

Andrei Belousov, wearing a dark suit, speaks from a lectern in a government chamber.

Andrei R. Belousov, the newly appointed defense minister, at a hearing on Monday in the Russian Parliament, in a photo made available by the Russian Federation Council.Credit…Russian Federation Council, via Reuters

May 13, 2024Updated 10:36 a.m. ET

To President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, appointing a new defense minister provides a new building block toward fighting a long war.

That was evident in Moscow on Monday when Andrei R. Belousov, the economist who was Mr. Putin’s surprise pick to lead Russia’s sprawling defense ministry, made his first public appearance in his new role and spoke about bureaucracy rather than the battlefield.

It reflects an acknowledgment that the military production that is supplying Russia’s war, and heating its economy, must be carefully managed to sustain a war of attrition with Ukraine.

At the same time, Russia is playing the long game on the battlefield. In northeastern Ukraine, Russian forces mounting a new offensive are pushing forward slowly rather than attempting major breakthroughs to big cities, as they did at the beginning of the war — with disastrous results.

In televised remarks at Russia’s upper house of Parliament on Monday, which is expected to rubber-stamp his nomination, Mr. Belousov emphasized the bureaucratic details of the fast-growing military effort, and made no reference to the situation at the front. He described his priorities as improving standards of care and living for soldiers, veterans and their families.

The excessive paperwork that fighters faced in obtaining benefits, he said, ought to be addressed “in the framework of interagency electronic coordination.”

“It’s absolutely unacceptable” that soldiers are redirected to overcrowded hospitals when on leave, Mr. Belousov said in televised comments. “This issue needs to be resolved.”

The brief hearing was a snapshot of how the sudden rise of a soft-spoken expert on economic policy to the helm of an enormous military apparatus waging its biggest conflict since World War II has emerged as a new component in Mr. Putin’s strategy of defeating Ukraine and the West through a war of attrition.

Mr. Belousov’s appointment signals Mr. Putin’s focus on subordinating the country’s economy to his military needs, in the expectation that a war in Ukraine, or at least a militarized standoff with the West, could shape Russia’s future for years to come.

“Putin’s priority is war, and war of attrition is won by economics,” said Alexandra Prokopenko, a former Russian central bank official now at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center in Berlin.

Over more than six years serving as Mr. Putin’s economic adviser, Mr. Belousov developed a reputation as a strong supporter of a dominant state role in the economy and of high public spending. The war has already led Mr. Putin to enact some of the proposals that Mr. Belousov has been advocating for years, such as higher taxes on big business and greater use of the country’s oil savings.

In Moscow, Valentina Matviyenko, the chairwoman of the upper house of Parliament, said Mr. Belousov was the best choice to find ways to procure “new, modern weaponry, new technology and new innovations” for the military.

Sergei Mironov, an ultranationalist lawmaker, welcomed Mr. Belousov’s appointment, adding that “the servicemen are not the only ones fighting today, but so are economies.”

When his nomination is finalized, Mr. Belousov will replace Sergei K. Shoigu, a long-serving minister who was fiercely loyal to Mr. Putin. Many analysts said that, despite his close ties to the Russian leader, Mr. Shoigu’s days were numbered ever since the spectacular failure of the initial invasion in February 2022, when Russia’s troops appeared shocked by the resistance put up by Ukraine’s forces.

But rather than fire Mr. Shoigu as Russia was struggling to stay in the fight, Mr. Putin chose only to replace him now — as Russia appears to be in its strongest position in the war since Mr. Putin started it more than two years ago.

“Putin is seeing that a lot of things were not done right — there were very grave mistakes,” Sergei Markov, a Moscow political analyst and a former Kremlin adviser, said in a phone interview. But, he added, “you don’t make personnel decisions in a crisis.”

“Now the crisis has been resolved — the Ukrainian offensive was stopped and a new army has been formed,” Mr. Markov said.

The appointment of a methodical bureaucrat to oversee Russia’s war effort also meshes with the consolidation of a slower-paced Russian strategy on the battlefield.

The failed attempts to stun the enemy into submission in the first month of the invasion in 2022 with armored thrusts and paratrooper drops have since given way to systematic pummeling of Ukrainian defenses along most of the frontline.

This strategy has allowed Russia to exploit its manpower and firepower advantage to gradually inch forward against overstretched and exhausted defenders.

Last week, Mr. Putin doubled down on the strategy of attrition by opening of a new front in the northern Ukrainian border region of Kharkiv.

Russia had tried to capture the region of Kharkiv in the early weeks of the war when its armored columns streamed across the border and headed for the regional capital of the same name along the highways. The attack quickly collapsed after encountering determined Ukrainian forces, who later forced Russia into a hasty retreat.

With the element of surprise now gone, Russia this time has used small units of infantry supported by artillery to filter across the border and slowly push forward, one village at a time.

Military analysts said the new offensive stands little chance of capturing the city of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest metropolitan area. But the attacks appear to have succeeded in drawing Ukrainian reinforcements from other sections of the front, at a time when the country is struggling to recruit enough fighters and obtain new weapons from its Western allies.


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The Russian War Machine

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As the war in Ukraine enters its third year, fatigue has set in in all the countries directly or indirectly involved. It is difficult for politicians to decide to increase military spending: there are always domestic problems that voters prioritize. It is difficult for companies to increase arms production quickly. In both Ukraine and Russia, there is an obvious shortage of people willing to fight. 

However, Russia’s political and economic system is far better prepared for war. Its politicians are independent of the electorate’s sentiments and can continue to fulfill their delusional fantasies, working to destroy Ukraine and create a permanent threat to Europe. Corporations, having received military contracts and freed from competition from imports, are eager to join the arms race, seeing it as an opportunity to increase their profits.

Russians are beginning to see the war as something that is pointless and dangerous to resist. Despair prevails, and we will not see a Russian “march on the Pentagon,” a 1967 event during which protesters against the Vietnam War confronted military police in Washington, D.C. Russia’s Defense Ministry is capable of recruiting hundreds of thousands of contractors a year. This will allow Putin to keep up the military pressure on Ukraine, which is now experiencing a shortage of weapons, ammunition, and soldiers.

However, Putin will also be happy with the option of “winning” through a ceasefire agreement that would allow him time to regroup for the next attack. This would ease the burden of mobilization on the population without reducing the military spending that fuels weapons manufacturing. 

War as Incentive

Putin is now interested in making the war permanent, notes political scientist Nikolai Petrov. The war justifies the complete elimination of political competition, deprives the economic elites of their autonomy, and strengthens the influence of the security apparatus. The spectacular assassination of Yevgeny Prigozhin, a private military commander who started a mutiny, and the slow assassination of Navalny in prison have eliminated Putin’s most dangerous rivals.

The war has become a chance for many people to significantly improve their standard of living. The monthly salary of a contract soldier is around $2,300, more than four times the median salary in Russia. The worse a person’s life is, the easier it is to persuade them to go to war. According to official accounts, the army recruited about half a million contract soldiers in 2023. 

The rate of recruitment of contract soldiers in 2024 is likely to be half that. The army has already picked the low-hanging fruit in 2022–2023 by mobilizing large numbers of prisoners and people from poorer regions. The Russian military expect this to be enough to dictate the situation on the front, especially given the problems of rearmament in Ukraine, the slow growth of military production in Europe, and the difficulties of supplying Ukraine with American weapons.

Serious incentives have also been created for those employed in the military-industrial complex, which accounted for most of last year’s GDP growth. The factories working on army contracts have raised wages sharply and increased hiring, and continue to recruit new workers. Many civilian industries have reoriented to meet the army’s needs. As a result, the total number of beneficiaries of the war, who might therefore be interested in its continuation, may reach 15–20 percent of the population. 

A Soviet Model: Improved Edition

Putin has created an improved model of the Soviet system. Back then, the army was supplied by sluggish state enterprises. Now there are many private companies operating with market incentives. Capitalist production is more efficient than a planned economy, and autocracies find it much easier to wage war than democracies. Modern Russia, which combines capitalism with a regime of personal power, is very well adapted to war.

Of course, Putin is not free from the many difficulties that come with waging wars of conquest. The main drawback is ordinary Russians’ reluctance to die or to kill. There is a growing movement of relatives of those who have been mobilized. Relatives of the dead and missing are trying to get information from officials about their loved ones.  

Over the course of 2023, according to the Chronicles project, an independent polling outlet, the share of those in favor of continuing the war at all costs has fallen from 22 percent to 12 percent, while the share of those opposed to ending the war if Putin’s stated goals are not achieved has fallen from 47 percent to 31 percent. For the first time since the start of the full-scale invasion, there are more supporters of such a decision than opponents. According to the Russian Field poll, the number of Russians who want to end the war is almost an order of magnitude greater than the proportion of those who want to achieve total victory.

More than half of Russians cannot formulate a clear position toward their country’s war. On average, respondents are more concerned about health and income than war. The majority do not want to know anything about the war, do not want to receive any news about it, do not want to think about it. Powerlessness, apathy, depression, unwillingness to do anything on their own—these are the most widespread feelings among Russians when it comes to war and politics. 

War fatigue is fueled by the accumulating inflation that is overwhelming the growth of Russians’ real incomes. 

Putin Needs to Feed His War Machine

The median Russian voter would simply like to return to some pre-war normalcy. At the same time, 56 percent of respondents fear that if Russia withdraws its troops from Ukrainian territory, Ukrainian troops will enter Russia. In addition, 54 percent are sure that the end of the war will not affect their lives at all, as if the war were taking place in some parallel reality. 

Russian war fatigue makes the ceasefire scenario more attractive to Putin. At the same time, the incentives for him to end the war are not strong. Putin may well continue the war, counting on the weakening of Ukraine and its supporters. However, the main thing is that none of these scenarios would mean stopping the military production pipeline, reducing military spending, or liberalizing domestic politics. It would only be a tactical pause. 

With Ukraine, Putin knows how to play the long game, waiting for the right moment to strike. Therefore, a permanent state of war, exhausting and persistent, is with us for a long time. Do not think that you can appease the aggressor. The feeling of satiety will not last long. The Russian war machine is assembled and ready to grind for a long time to come.

The opinions expressed in this article are those solely of the author and do not reflect the views of the Kennan Institute


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In Major Shakeup, Putin Replaces Defense Minister Shoigu

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In a major shakeup, President Vladimir Putin has nominated former First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov to replace longtime Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the upper-house Federation Council announced Sunday night.

The ouster of Shoigu, a longtime Putin ally, comes nearly a week after Putin was sworn into a fifth term in office, cementing his more than two-decade rule even further as Moscow presses forward with its war with neighboring Ukraine.

Belousov, 65, has held several positions in government over the past decade, from economic development minister and presidential economic assistant to acting prime minister and first deputy prime minister. 

When asked about Belousov’s lack of military experience, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists that a civilian official heading the Defense Ministry would open it up “to innovation, to the introduction of all advanced ideas.”

“It’s very important to integrate the economy of the security bloc into the country’s economy so that it meets current needs,” Peskov was quoted as saying by state media.

Putin has also dismissed Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev, long considered a key member of Putin’s inner circle, “in connection with his transfer to another job,” according to a presidential decree. 

Shoigu will take Patrushev’s place as head of the Security Council, an executive branch body overseeing strategic and national security issues.

Peskov said the Kremlin would reveal Patrushev’s new position in the coming days.

Shoigu, a longtime Putin ally who has led the invasion of Ukraine, had until now withstood a series of failures in the war and a mutiny by the Wagner mercenary group in the summer of 2023.

The replacement comes weeks after the arrest of Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov, who was seen as a close Shoigu ally, on bribery charges.

Tatiana Stanovaya, a political analyst and founder of the R.Politik project, said Shoigu’s transfer to the Security Council proves that the body is merely a place where Putin keeps former key officials who can’t be sacked outright.

Stanovaya added that she expects “something new” to be placed under Patrushev’s purview.

“It is now important for Putin to make sure that the enormous sums of money spent on war are not stolen,” Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote on X (formerly Twitter). “But Belousov will now ruin his reputation forever as an accomplice.”

“Belousov was responsible for technological development. The Kremlin believes he will technologize the economy and turn it into a military economy. And the military will pull GDP growth. Star Wars economy,” Kolesnikov wrote. “Which is what the USSR blew up on.”

Apart from the major shakeup in the Defense Ministry, most top officials kept their positions, with Putin reappointing Sergei Lavrov as foreign minister, Alexander Bortnikov as Federal Security Service (FSB) head, Sergei Narishkin as Foreign Intelligence Service head, Konstantin Chuychenko as justice minister, and Alexander Kurenkov as emergencies minister, among others.

So, too, was the son of longtime Putin ally Yury Kovalchuk appointed to chair Russia’s Audit Chamber, a post that has remained empty since its previous chairman, systemic liberal Alexei Kudrin, was dismissed in November 2022.


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Putin changes his defence minister, moves Patrushev

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MOSCOW, May 12 (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed changing his defence minister and moving him to replace the powerful secretary of the Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, in a significant change to the Kremlin’s pecking order.

Following is the list of changes:

* Prime Minister – Mikhail Mishustin

* Secretary of the Security Council – Sergei Shoigu (formerly Nikolai Patrushev)

* The Kremlin said Nikolai Patrushev will have a different job but did not say which.

“Nikolai Platonovich Patrushev has been relieved of his post as Secretary of the Security Council in connection with the transfer to another job – he continues to work, and within the next few days we will inform you where Nikolai Platonovich will continue his activities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

* Defence Minister – Andrei Belousov (formerly Sergei Shoigu)

“The Ministry of Defense should be absolutely open to innovation, to the introduction of all advanced ideas,” Peskov said. “Therefore, the president chose Belousov’s candidacy.”

* Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov – to remain in his job, the Kremlin said.

* FSB Director – Alexander Bortnikov

* SVR Director – Sergei Naryshkin

* Chief of Russia’s national guard – Viktor Zolotov

* Federal Guards Service (FCO) – Dmitry Kochnev

* Foreign Minister – Sergei Lavrov

* Interior Minister – Vladimir Kolokoltsev

* First Deputy PM – Denis Manturov

* Deputy PM overseeing energy and the economy – Alexander Novak

* Deputy PM overseeing agriculture and ecology – Dmitry Patrushev

* Deputy PM overseeing transport – Vitaly Savelyev

* Agriculture Minister – Oksana Lut (was Dmitry Patrushev)

* Finance Minister – Anton Siluanov

* Economy Minister – Maxim Reshetnikov

* Energy Minister – Sergei Tsivilev (was Nikolai Shulginov)

* Trade and Industry Minister – Anton Alikhanov (was Denis Manturov)

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Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge
Editing by Andrew Osborn and Tomasz Janowski

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Secret Hamas Files Show How It Spied on Everyday Palestinians

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Hamas monitored political activity, online posts, and apparently even love lives. Palestinians were stuck between an Israeli blockade and a repressive security force.

A crowd with green banners, a Palestinian flag streaming above them.

A rally in support of Hamas in Gaza City in 2022. A secret police force overseen by Hamas’s leader in the enclave utilizes an extensive network of informants.Credit…Fatima Shbair/Associated Press

May 13, 2024, 5:03 a.m. ET

The Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar has for years overseen a secret police force in Gaza that conducted surveillance on everyday Palestinians and built files on young people, journalists and those who questioned the government, according to intelligence officials and a trove of internal documents reviewed by The New York Times.

The unit, known as the General Security Service, relied on a network of Gaza informants, some of whom reported their own neighbors to the police. People landed in security files for attending protests or publicly criticizing Hamas. In some cases, the records suggest that the authorities followed people to determine if they were carrying on romantic relationships outside marriage.

Hamas has long run an oppressive system of governance in Gaza, and many Palestinians there know that security officials watch them closely. But a 62-slide presentation on the activities of the General Security Service, delivered only weeks before the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, reveals the degree to which the largely unknown unit penetrated the lives of Palestinians.

The documents show that Hamas leaders, despite claiming to represent the people of Gaza, would not tolerate even a whiff of dissent. Security officials trailed journalists and people they suspected of immoral behavior. Agents got criticism removed from social media and discussed ways to defame political adversaries. Political protests were viewed as threats to be undermined.

Everyday Gazans were stuck — behind the wall of Israel’s crippling blockade and under the thumb and constant watch of a security force. That dilemma continues today, with the added threat of Israeli ground troops and airstrikes.

“We’re facing bombardment by the occupation and thuggery by the local authorities,” Ehab Fasfous, a journalist in the Gaza Strip who appeared in the files of the General Security Service, said in a phone interview from Gaza.

Damaged and destroyed buildings last month in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip.Credit…Fatima Shbair/Associated Press

Mr. Fasfous, 51, is labeled in one report as among “the major haters of the Hamas movement.”

The documents were provided to The Times by officials in Israel’s military intelligence directorate, who said they had been seized in raids in Gaza.

Reporters then interviewed people who were named in the files. Those people recounted key events, confirmed biographical information and, in Mr. Fasfous’s case, described interactions with the authorities that aligned with the secret files. The documents reviewed by The Times include seven intelligence files ranging from October 2016 to August 2023. The military intelligence directorate said it was aware of files containing information on at least 10,000 Palestinians in Gaza.

The General Security Service is formally part of the Hamas political party but functions like part of the government. One Palestinian individual familiar with the inner workings of Hamas, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, confirmed that the service was one of three powerful internal security bodies in Gaza. The others were Military Intelligence, which typically focuses on Israel, and the Internal Security Service, an arm of the Interior Ministry.

Basem Naim, a spokesman for Hamas, said the people responsible for the General Security Service were unreachable during the war.

With monthly expenses of $120,000 before the war with Israel, the unit comprised 856 people, records show. Of those, more than 160 were paid to spread Hamas propaganda and launch online attacks against opponents at home and abroad. The status of the unit today is unknown because Israel has dealt a significant blow to Hamas’s military and governing abilities.

The Israeli intelligence authorities believe that Mr. Sinwar directly oversaw the General Security Service, according to three Israeli intelligence officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. They said the slide show was prepared for Mr. Sinwar personally, though they did not say how they knew that.

The presentation said that the General Security Service works to protect Hamas’s people, property and information, and to support its leadership’s decision-making.

Some slides focused on the personal security of Hamas leaders. Others discussed ways to stamp out protests, including the “We Want to Live” demonstrations last year that criticized power shortages and the cost of living. Security officials also tracked operatives from Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an ideologically aligned militant group that often partners with Hamas.

Some tactics, like amplifying Hamas’s own message, appeared to be routine politicking. In other instances, officials suggested using intelligence to undermine opponents and distort their reputations, though the files were vague about how that was to be done.

“Undertaking a number of offensive and defensive media campaigns to confuse and influence adversaries by using private and exclusive information,” the document read.

Security officers stopped Mr. Fasfous on his way to a protest last August, seized his phone and ordered him to leave, a report says. Mr. Fasfous confirmed that two plainclothes officers had approached him. The authorities searched his recent calls, and wrote that he was communicating with “suspicious people” in Israel.

“We advise that closing in on him is necessary because he’s a negative person who is full of hatred, and only brings forth the Strip’s shortcomings,” the document said.

The documents discussed ways to stamp out protests last year over power outages and difficult living conditions.Credit…Associated Press

The most frustrating thing, Mr. Fasfous said, was that the officers used his phone to send flirtatious messages to a colleague. “They wanted to pin a moral violation on me,” he said.

The report does not include that detail but does describe ways to “deal with” Mr. Fasfous. “Defame him,” the report said.

“If you’re not with them, you become an atheist, an infidel and a sinner,” Mr. Fasfous said. He acknowledged supporting protests and criticizing Hamas online, but said the people he was in touch with in Israel were Palestinians who owned food and clothing companies. He said he helped run their social media accounts.

The General Security Service’s goals are similar to those of security services in countries like Syria that have used secret units to quell dissent. The files of the General Security Service, though, mention tactics like censorship, intimidation and surveillance rather than physical violence.

“This General Security Service is just like the Stasi of East Germany,” said Michael Milshtein, a former Israeli military intelligence officer specializing in Palestinian affairs. “You always have an eye on the street.”

Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, last year at a rally in Gaza City.Credit…Samar Abu Elouf for The New York Times

Palestinians in Gaza live in fear and hesitate to express dissent, analysts said.

“There are a lot of people practicing self-censorship,” said Mkhaimar Abusada, a professor of political science from Gaza City. “They just don’t want problems with the Hamas government.”

That view clashes with the most strident comments of Israel’s leaders, like President Isaac Herzog, who blamed Gazans for not toppling Hamas before the Oct. 7 attacks.

“There’s an entire nation that is responsible,” he said. “This rhetoric about civilians were not aware, not involved, it’s absolutely not true. They could have risen up.”

The General Security Service, the files show, also tried to enforce a conservative social order.

In December 2017, for example, the authorities investigated a tip that a woman was acting immorally with a man who owned a clothing shop. A security report noted that she visited the shop for an hour on one day, then more than two hours the next. The report presented no evidence of wrongdoing, but proposed that “relevant parties” address the matter.

An October 2016 report described young men and women performing unspecified “immoral acts” at a Palestine Liberation Organization office in Khan Younis at night. Hamas sees the Palestine Liberation Organization as a compromised entity, whose leader too often favors Israeli interests. The report offered no evidence of misdeeds but recommended summoning a man who claimed to be in possession of videos and pictures.

The files also show that Hamas was suspicious of foreign organizations and journalists.

Fishermen in the Port of Gaza in 2022. Even though many of the reports contain nothing more than notes on daily lives of Gazans, many people in the strip “think four times before doing any small thing,” said Michael Milshtein, a former Israeli intelligence officer specializing in Palestinian affairs.Credit…Samar Abu Elouf for The New York Times

When Monique van Hoogstraten, a Dutch reporter, visited a protest encampment along the border with Israel in April 2018, the authorities noted the most banal of details. They noted the make and model of her car and her license plate number. They said she took pictures of children and tried to interview an elderly woman Ms. van Hoogstraten confirmed the reporting trip in an interview with The Times.

The file recommended further “reconnaissance” on journalists.

None of the files reviewed by The Times were dated after the start of the war. But Mr. Fasfous said the government remained interested in him.

Early in the war, he said he took images of security forces hitting people who fought over spots in line outside a bakery. The authorities confiscated his camera.

Mr. Fasfous complained to a government official in Khan Younis, who told him to stop reporting and “destabilizing the internal front,” Mr. Fasfous recalled.

“I told him I was reporting on the truth and that the truth won’t hurt him, but that fell on deaf ears,” he said. “We can’t have a life here as long as these criminals remain in control.”


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Opinion | What Kind of Husband Behaves Like Donald Trump?

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Donald Trump, in a red baseball cap, kissing the cheek of Melania Trump, who is in sunglasses.

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Donald Trump sat silent, stone-faced and staring straight ahead as he listened to the intimate details in Stormy Daniels’s testimony on Tuesday, closing his eyes at times in an apparent attempt to maintain his composure.

But there was one moment when he lost it — when Ms. Daniels recounted asking Mr. Trump about his wife, Melania Trump, and recalled that he told her they didn’t “even sleep in the same room.” From the defense table Mr. Trump shook his head in disgust and muttered “bullshit” loud enough that he drew a rebuke from the judge, who called his actions “contemptuous.”

Mr. Trump has a great deal of experience sending a specific message to his intended audience — whether on television, at rallies, through social media or in the Oval Office. His intended audience, on Tuesday and throughout the trial, is the jury. And whether his emotion in that moment was authentic or strategic, the message to the jury seemed pretty clear: How dare she talk about my family?

Family. It’s a word that has come up repeatedly among Mr. Trump’s defenders, as they try to convince jurors that any action by Mr. Trump was not to break the law or influence an election but to protect his family. Throughout the trial, which is expected to resume on Thursday with Ms. Daniels’s continued cross-examination, Mr. Trump’s team has tried to paint the former president as a loving husband and father. In doing so, they are trying to convince jurors that Mr. Trump cares about his wife and children more than anything else — including his money or his reputation. The idea of “Donald Trump, family man” is one that jurors have to buy, or not.

His team sure is trying. “He’s not just our former president,” his lawyer argued during the trial’s opening statements. “He’s a husband. He’s a father. And he’s a person — just like you and just like me.” (Mr. Trump has denied the charges and says he did not have sex with Ms. Daniels.)

But consider me, um, skeptical.

Mr. Trump’s ability to have any relationship beyond the transactional is one of the great mysteries about him, and the current evidence on the matter is mixed. There have been moments in the trial that have emphasized that Mr. Trump thinks and acts like a family man — or, at least, that it’s all in the family and he’s the head of it. Hope Hicks, his former communications director, detailed last week how the Trump Organization was run “like a small family business,” and how, after a 2016 article in The Wall Street Journal detailed an alleged affair with a former Playboy model, Karen McDougal, Mr. Trump was most concerned about his wife — and asked Ms. Hicks to hide the newspapers from her. (What’s more honorable than a husband going to great lengths to conceal his affair?)

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump has made attending the high school graduation in Florida of his youngest son, Barron, a particular sticking point, railing on Truth Social: “Who will explain for me, to my wonderful son, Barron, who is a GREAT student at a fantastic School, that his Dad will likely not be allowed to attend his Graduation Ceremony?” (The judge has since given him the day off. Of course, he will also reportedly be squeezing in a fund-raiser that day — in Minnesota.)

And yet: Mr. Trump’s actual family has been largely absent from court, despite his wishing Melania Trump a “very happy birthday” from the hallway where he speaks to the press. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump’s son Eric did attend the trial, sitting in the front row while fiddling with his tie and peering at the exhibits on the courtroom screens as Ms. Daniels testified.

And as Ms. Daniels explained how Mr. Trump would call her “honeybunch” when he phoned her, and tell her he missed her, I found myself wondering: Is this a man who is capable of missing anyone? Do we have evidence of that, evidence that this man who doesn’t seem to have lasting close friends, or a family who stands by his side at his lowest moments, is credible as someone who puts loved ones (let alone the country) before his own interests?

What we have learned in this case is that Mr. Trump hung around with Stormy Daniels and Ms. McDougal in 2006 and 2007, which was not long after he and Melania Trump were married, and while she was at home with their newborn son. We also learned that sometimes this emphasis on being “fatherly” had a creepy vibe, as when Ms. Daniels testified that Mr. Trump said she reminded him of his elder daughter, Ivanka — blond, beautiful and smart, and often underestimated — all before stripping down to his underwear while she was in the bathroom.

How does a family man behave? It’s a little jarring to reconcile the testimonials about Mr. Trump’s love for his wife with the way he treats women who are not her. Ms. Daniels’s testimony about the sexual encounter with Mr. Trump — using descriptions including “The room spun in slow motion”; “I was staring up at the ceiling”; “I was ashamed” — will remind a lot of women not of family men, but of stories about unwanted but perhaps not entirely nonconsensual encounters that many of us harbor. I noticed that at certain points, the language echoed that of E. Jean Carroll, whose accusation of sexual abuse at the hands of Mr. Trump he was found liable for in civil court.

Still, playing up the family thing is a common tactic that male politicians use to justify lies and coverups or excuse bad behavior. We had one president, Bill Clinton, who was impeached after a sex scandal. We’ve had untold numbers of politicians who cheated on their spouses and then tried to dance around it, including in public appearances that gave rise to the Good Wife trope. And now we have Mr. Trump, on trial on criminal charges, again using his family, and his wife, as a shield — or, worse, prop.

My concern here isn’t so much Mr. Trump himself, but rather how his actions and the trial are a familiar referendum on the depths of his misogyny, from name-calling (see: “horseface,” his nickname for Ms. Daniels) to more serious accusations of assault. Mr. Trump’s treatment of women is not on trial — and yet the jury’s decision may hinge in part on whether it is willing to be convinced of that family-man argument, or all the evidence to the contrary.

That includes whether it believes Ms. Daniels. During her testimony on Tuesday, for close to five hours, she was at times frenetic, but also confident and composed throughout. The only time her voice cracked was when she spoke about her daughter — and wanting to protect her from the circus she found herself in. She became emotional at that point, talking about her family. It was impossible not to wonder: Is there any chance that Donald Trump would do the same?

Jessica Bennett is a contributing editor in the Opinion section of The Times. She teaches journalism at New York University and is the author of “Feminist Fight Club” and “This Is 18.” @jessicabennett Facebook

A version of this article appears in print on  , Section A, Page 22 of the New York edition with the headline: What Kind of Husband Behaves Like Trump?. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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She Was at the Top of the State Department. Now She’s Ready to Talk.

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Notably, she said the United States was not quick enough to realize and prevent the expansionist ambitions of both Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.

A longtime champion of Ukraine and the effort to counter Russia, she also warned about the perils of Donald Trump blowing up NATO if he wins back the White House in November.

“Don’t throw it out,” she said of the trans-Atlantic alliance, “because you would never be able to re-create it again.”

The following has been edited for length and clarity:

How’s life on the outside?

Life is wonderful. I am doing a lot of projects that I had put off, seeing a lot of people that I love, and I’m staying involved in ways that are meaningful. I’m speaking on foreign policy issues I care about — whether it is Ukraine or ensuring that the United States leads strongly in the world. I’m getting a chance to prepare for my classes in the fall and work with the next generation of foreign policy leaders. I’ll be at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs.

Why leave the Biden administration, really? People said you felt passed over for the deputy secretary of State job. Is that true?

I actually didn’t compete for the deputy secretary of State job. I loved being undersecretary for political affairs. I love working with Secretary [Antony] Blinken. But as you know, I’ve done three years altogether and I’ve done eight months plus in both jobs, and so it was just the right time for me and my family to do something different.

Do you have any regrets from your time in the role?

I think whenever you finish a job like this, you wish you’d been able to do more on more issues. Travel more, touch more people, get more done faster, ensure the U.S. was leading strongly on as many continents as possible, mentor more of the next generation. And you’re always constrained by time, by resources, by the crises that overwhelm the inbox. So you always want to have done more.

Can Ukraine win this war against Russia? And how do you define winning?

Let’s start with the fact that Putin has already failed in his objective. He wanted to flatten Ukraine. He wanted to ensure that they had no sovereignty, independence, agency, no democratic future — because a democratic Ukraine, a European Ukraine, is a threat to his model for Russia, among other things, and because it’s the first building block for his larger territorial ambitions.

Can Ukraine succeed? Absolutely. Can Ukraine come out of this more sovereign, more economically independent, stronger, more European than it is now? Absolutely. And I think it will. But we’ve got to stay with it. We’ve got to make sure our allies stay with it.

A Ukrainian tank drives down a street in the heavily damaged town of Siversk.

“We’ve got to stay with it. We’ve got to make sure our allies stay with it,” former U.S. diplomat Victoria Nuland said of supporting Ukraine in its war with Russia.
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Spencer Platt/Getty Images

And we have to accelerate a lot of the initiatives that were in the supplemental, like helping Ukraine build that highly deterrent military force of the future, like deploying these longer-range weapons to strategic effect, like ensuring that the critical infrastructure and the energy sector are protected, like building up our own defense industrial base and that of our allies and Ukraine’s again, so that we and Ukraine are building faster than Russia and China.

But can it get all its territory back, including Crimea?

It can definitely get to a place where it’s strong enough, I believe, and where Putin is stymied enough to go to the negotiating table from a position of strength. It’ll be up to the Ukrainian people what their territorial ambitions should be. But there are certain things that are existential.

Any deal that they cut in their interest and in the larger global interest has to be a deal that Putin is compelled to stick to. We can’t be doing this every six months, every three years. It has to actually lead to a deal that includes Russian withdrawal.

Putin is a master at what we call rope-a-dope negotiating, where he never actually cuts the deal. It has to be a deal that ensures that whatever is decided on Crimea, it can’t be remilitarized such that it’s a dagger at the heart of the center of Ukraine.

Was it a mistake not to push the Ukrainians harder to go for some sort of negotiated end to the war in 2022, especially the fall of 2022?

They were not in a strong enough position then. They’re not in a strong enough position now. The only deal Putin would have cut then, the only deal that he would cut today, at least before he sees what happens in our election, is a deal in which he says, “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable.” And that’s not sustainable.

You’ve had a long career, especially when it comes to Europe. Where did the U.S. go wrong in its understanding of Russia?

With regard to both Russia and China, after the end of the Cold War, the prevailing wisdom among all of us — right, left and center — was that if you could knit Moscow and Beijing into the open and free global order that we had benefited from for so many years, that they would become prosperous, and they would become strong contributing members of that order. And that’s what we tried for a very long time.

That works if you have a leadership that is fundamentally accepting the current system. But once you have leaders who are telling their populations that this system keeps their country down, doesn’t allow it to have its rightful place, that has a territorial definition of greatness, that is bent on economic, political and or military coercion — that’s antithetical to this order, and then our policy has to change.

Did we realize fast enough Putin’s ambitions and Xi Jinping’s ambitions, and did we do enough to ensure that those ambitions stayed inside their own nations and didn’t spill out and coerce others? 20/20 hindsight? Probably not.

How much of it comes down to what particular guy is running the show? I sometimes wonder, could things be different if it wasn’t Putin in charge? If it wasn’t Xi? How much of it comes down to the dude at the top?

In highly centralized societies, which both China and Russia have historically been, without an electoral refresh of the kind that we all go through in the democratic world, it matters hugely, because it’s that human who’s defining what greatness means. It’s that human who’s deciding how to maintain order in that society. It’s that human — allowing them to speak, allowing a free press, allowing protests, allowing alternative political parties — who’s going to shape the options. And that constrains obviously the kind of relationship we can have.

What is the lesson we should learn about foreign policy in general when it comes to the experiences we’ve had in Russia and China?

We should always try to talk both to leaders and to people, to the extent that we’re allowed. We should always offer an opportunity to work together in common interest.

But if the ideology is inherently expansionist, is inherently illiberal, is inherently trying to change the system that benefits us, we’ve got to build protections and resilience for ourselves, for our friends and allies, and particularly for those neighbors of those countries who are likely to be on the front line of that first push.

Where do you see the Israel-Hamas war heading?

Essentially, there are two paths on the table. There is continuing this war with all of the destruction and horror and lack of clarity about how you end Hamas’ reign of terror.

The other path is the route that the administration and allies and partners and a lot of countries in the Gulf are pushing, and a lot of Israelis want, which is: a hostage deal leads to a long-term cease-fire, leads to a better future for Palestinians both in the West Bank and in Gaza, leads to Saudi-Israel normalization and a path to two states, and a region where the ideology and the violence that Hamas is offering is beaten by more opening, more opportunity, more peace, more stability.

Are you saying that because you believe it or because it’s the Biden administration’s position?

I’m saying it because, anything other than that, this is going to happen again and again and again.

If you could go back in time on that one, what, if anything, should the U.S. have done differently?

Beginning with the Trump administration, everybody fell in love with regional normalization as the cure-all for the instability and grievances and insecurity in the Middle East. And that’s a part of it.

But if you leave out the Palestinian issue, then somebody’s going to seize it and run with it, and that’s what Hamas did. I also think that both we and the Israelis knew too little about the terror state that had been established in Gaza.

You’re going to be teaching at Columbia, the epicenter of campus protests over this situation. If you could offer these protesters some advice as someone with significant policymaking experience, what would it be?

Peaceful protest is part of the fabric of who we are and the fact that we allow it, and the Chinese don’t and the Russians don’t, makes us Americans. But when that protest becomes violent, when it impinges on other people’s human rights or denigrates others, then you veer toward coercion.

So, express your views, ask for concrete paths forward. But stay away from violence, make sure that it’s actually indigenous to the campus, that you’re not becoming the tool of outside agitators. And be respectful of alternative views as you expect people to respect your views.

What if you are peaceful? And you say what you want and the people in charge just say, ‘Oh, that’s very nice, thank you,’ and then they ignore you and they keep doing what they’ve been doing for years. How do you do just keep pushing on that front? Do you join the government?

I would certainly say if you care enough to devote all day, every day to political change, come join the folks who are setting policy, commit your life to public service. I didn’t expect that that’s where my life would lead, but it’s been incredibly rewarding.

There are many, many ways to change policy, but being on the inside is not only extremely rewarding, but you can actually get stuff done.

If Trump wins, and leaves NATO or limits America’s role in NATO, does the alliance fall apart? What happens?

First and foremost, America suffers. Because if you look at every single one of the challenges we have globally, even as we make the security commitment to Europe, it is the European countries who have contributed more to Ukraine — on the security side, on the economic side, etc. It is the European countries who have to adapt their policies toward China if you want to have an impact on China’s eagerness to coerce others. It’s the European countries who we need to help fund the Haiti mission, to help defeat terrorism in Africa, and provide prosperity.

If we are not part of that family, on a daily basis, we are standing alone, our own influence in the world is greatly reduced, and we have no influence over how they choose to spend their energy and resources. And they’re less powerful in doing it without us.

What about this idea that look, we’re the U.S. at the end of the day. We’re the superpower. Whether we’re in NATO or not, people are going to come along with us. Isn’t there something to that argument?

I’ve worked for six presidents, Republicans and Democrats. I always believed that a new president with a fresh mandate from the American people should look at every global problem with fresh eyes, bring new solutions, and should have that opportunity, working with Congress, working with the American people, working with allies and partners.

The U.S. Capitol building is seen.

“I always believed that a new president with a fresh mandate from the American people should look at every global problem with fresh eyes, bring new solutions,” said former U.S. diplomat Victoria Nuland.
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Francis Chung/POLITICO

That’s a different thing than turning your back on bedrock, bipartisan institutions and policies that have protected Americans and advanced our own prosperity and global influence for 70 years.

Why do you want to throw out what’s working and what benefits us for no other reason than you’ve had a fit of pique? Work within the institution to make it work better. Don’t throw it out, because you would never be able to re-create it again.

Does the rest of the world fear the United States?

Is fear what we want from the rest of the world?

Sometimes.

I think what we want from the rest of the world is they see us leading in a manner that advances their own security, advances their own prosperity, creates this community of nations that can handle global problems — whether they are terrorist problems, whether they are health problems, whether they’re environmental problems — and we do it in a primarily self-interested but unselfish way, and we’re creating that community.

They should only fear us if they’re opponents of a largely liberal democratic way of advancing human prosperity. And in that context, if they are viciously invading a neighbor, if they are coercing a little state because they can, then I hope they would fear our reaction and the reaction that we will build with other democracies who want to protect the system that favors freedom.

Do you ever plan to go back into government?

I love what I did for 35 years. I’ve always loved it. And I continue to love it. So in the right circumstances, of course.


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Hillary Clinton-produced play ‘Suffs’ failing to pack seats during peak Broadway season

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The Broadway box office numbers for the week of May 5 revealed that Hillary Clinton-produced stage play “Suffs” is on the bottom rung of shows in terms of filling capacity.

Broadway Theatre Industry official site “The Broadway League” shared the weekly grosses from the 35 shows currently playing on Broadway, which include “Suffs,” “Harry Potter and The Cursed Child,” and classics like “Romeo & Juliet,” Sweeney Tod” and “Moulin Rouge! The Musical.”

According to the data, Clinton’s play only reached 81% capacity across eight performances that week, placing it among the bottom eight productions in that category – the bottom 23% of all 35 shows for the week.

EX-CLINTON AIDE SAYS HE ‘WET THE BED’ OVER SPECIAL COUNSEL’S REPORT ON BIDEN: ‘TERRIBLE FOR DEMOCRATS’

Hillary Clinton

Noting that the play’s lagging numbers look even worse considering it’s a new show, Breitbart News argued the performance “should still be drawing big crowds during Broadway’s peak season – the month before the Tony Awards,” which is right now.

The play first opened on Broadway last month, following an Off-Broadway run that started in 2022 in New York City’s “The Public” theater. The musical was by singer-songwriter Shaina Taub, directed by Leigh Silverman, and produced by lead producers Jill Furman and Rachel Sussman, along with co-producers Hillary Clinton and Malala Yousafzai.

Breitbart also noted that Vice President Harris’s niece, Meena Harris, is another producer on the stage play.

The three-hour-long play brings the women’s suffrage movement of the early 1900s to the stage. According to the show’s website, Suffs “boldly explores the victories and failures of a struggle for equality that’s far from over.”

HILLARY CLINTON: ‘WHAT TRUMP REALLY WANTS’ IS TO ‘KILL HIS OPPOSITION’

Broadway posters

The play features an “entirely female and non-binary cast – among them Tony winner Nikki M. James, Jenn Colella, Emily Skinner, and Grace McLean as President Woodrow Wilson,” according to Playbill.com.

Clinton stated she relates to “all of” the characters in the play, telling the Associated Press last month she knows “how hard it is to make change.”

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“I know how important it is to have relationships with the people you’re working for, as you’re taking risks and you’re doing things that have never been done, whether it’s running for president in my case or having a march on Washington in 1913 to try to convince the president and the Congress to adopt the amendment to let women vote,” she said.

The former U.S. Secretary of State added, “But more than that, I see it as relevant today. We have a lot of challenges in our country.”

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BroadwayLeague.com’s numbers also revealed that last week’s numbers for “Suffs” were even worse, with the show only filling 78% of its 7,784 total seats across performances.


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Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez goes on trial in New York on federal corruption charges

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U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez’s criminal corruption trial begins Monday in New York.

Andrew Harnik/Getty Images

Sen. Robert Menendez goes on trial Monday for allegedly accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, including bars of gold, in exchange for using his position as a powerful member of Congress to benefit three New Jersey businessmen as well as the governments of Egypt and Qatar.

Menendez, a three-term Democratic senator from New Jersey, faces 16 criminal counts, including bribery, obstruction of justice, acting as a foreign agent and honest services wire fraud. He has pleaded not guilty, and says that he is being targeted because he is a prominent Latino.

He faces trial alongside two co-defendants, Egyptian-American businessman Wael Hana and real estate developer Fred Daibes, while a third businessman, Jose Uribe, pleaded guilty and is cooperating with the government. Menendez’s wife, Nadine, was also charged but will face trial separately.

After he was indicted, Menendez stepped down from his role as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a powerful post that gave him influence over foreign military sales and financing. Despite calls to step down entirely, he has professed his innocence, refused to resign from the U.S. Senate and is still running for re-election this fall — though not as a Democrat.

This is not the first time Menendez has faced legal peril. He was indicted in 2015 on unrelated federal corruption and bribery charges, which he fought and took to trial. That case was declared a mistrial after the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

Menendez has vowed he will prevail in this prosecution as well. This case will be heard by a federal jury in Manhattan, unlike his previous trial which was in his home state of New Jersey. Jury selection begins Monday, and the trial is expected to last up to two months.

The prosecution’s case

The indictment describes a complex bribery scheme that allegedly ran from 2018 to 2023. Prosecutors say that Menendez and his wife accepted bribes from the three businessmen, including gold bullion, a Mercedes Benz convertible and cash. In exchange, Menendez allegedly agreed to take action to protect and enrich the trio, as well as to secretly benefit Egypt and Qatar.

The alleged scheme contains various threads that were all intertwined.

One revolved around Hana, who prosecutors say had close contacts with Egyptian officials and had been friends with Nadine Menendez for years.

The indictment says Menendez promised to use his power and authority to facilitate military sales and financing to Egypt. In return, Hana promised, among other things, to put Nadine Menendez on the payroll of his company for a “low-or-no-show job.”

Prosecutors say Menendez provided sensitive U.S. government information to Egyptian officials, with Hana acting as a middleman of sorts. Menendez also allegedly edited and ghost-wrote a letter on behalf of Egypt aimed at convincing U.S. senators to lift a hold on $300 million in aid to Egypt. He also signed off on foreign military aid to the country.

Hana, meanwhile, had secured a monopoly from the Egyptian government on certifying U.S. food exported to Egypt as halal. That monopoly, prosecutors say, was highly lucrative for Hana and his business, but it raised the cost of halal certification for U.S. meat suppliers.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture contacted the Egyptian government with concerns about the monopoly.

Gold bars

According to the indictment, Menendez—at Hana’s request—intervened to protect Hana’s business by calling a senior U.S. Department of Agriculture official and demanding the department “stop interfering” with Hana’s monopoly.

The thread related to Qatar revolves around another co-defendant, Fred Daibes.

According to the indictment, Daibes was trying to secure a multimillion-dollar investment from a Qatari investment company, and he enlisted Menendez’s help to do so.

Prosecutors say Menendez made “multiple public statements supporting the Government of Qatar,” and then gave them to Daibes to show the Qatari investor and a Qatari government official. In return for allegedly using his influence as a senator to help Daibes, the indictment says Menendez received gold bars and cash from the businessman.

FBI agents recovered gold bars, as well as $480,000 in cash, during a court-authorized search of Menendez’s home in New Jersey. Some of the gold bars bore serial numbers indicating they’d previously been owned by Daibes.

The indictment says stacks of cash were found in jackets with Menendez’s name stitched on them. Some envelopes of cash found at the home had Daibes’ fingerprints on them, according to court papers.

In addition to those actions, prosecutors allege Menendez also used his influence as a senator to intervene in investigations or prosecutions at the state and federal level.

In one instance, they say he tried to intervene in a New Jersey state criminal prosecution of an associate of one of the businessmen, Jose Uribe, by calling a senior investigator and urging that the matter be resolved.

In another instance, Menendez allegedly took action to intervene in a federal prosecution of Daibes.

Menendez’s defense

Menendez has said that he has worked tirelessly over his career as a public servant, and he’s claimed that he’d being targeted because of his Cuban heritage.

In a news conference after his indictment, Menendez told reporters that “prosecutors get it wrong sometimes.”

On the cash found at his home, Menendez said that he has withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash from his personal savings for potential emergencies. It’s a habit, he said, drawn on “the history of my family facing confiscation in Cuba.” Menendez was born in New York to parents who had immigrated from Cuba.

“I firmly believe that when all the facts are presented, not only will I be exonerated, but I still will be New Jersey’s senior senator.”


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Who Is Andrei Belousov? Putin loyalist economist to take charge of military

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Andrei Belousov—a respected economist and former deputy prime minister—will now lead the country’s defense ministry and its prolonged campaign in Ukraine, with President Vladimir Putin having chosen him to replace longtime incumbent and loyalist Sergei Shoigu.

Shoigu will move on to head Russia’s powerful security council, replacing FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev, who has long been considered one of Putin’s most powerful and hawkish officials. It is not yet clear what post Patrushev will be moved to, though his son—Dmitry Patrushev, who has been touted as a possible Putin successor—has been promoted to deputy prime minister.

Russia’s upper house in parliament, the Federation Council, will now need to approve Belousov’s candidacy. His proposed appointment appears to suggest the Kremlin sees victory in Ukraine—and perhaps beyond—as a matter of economics.

“Today on the battlefield, the winner is the one who is more open to innovation,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said of the reshuffle, as quoted by the state-run Tass news agency.

Andrei Belousov in Thailand in 2022

Incoming Russian Defense Minister Andrei Belousov in Bangkok, Thailand, on November 19, 2022. The economist has long been considered close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Incoming Russian Defense Minister Andrei Belousov in Bangkok, Thailand, on November 19, 2022. The economist has long been considered close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
JACK TAYLOR/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

“Therefore, it is natural that at the current stage, the president decided that the Russian Ministry of Defense should be headed by a civilian.” He added: “It’s very important to put the security economy in line with the economy of the country so that it meets the dynamics of the current moment.”

Belousov, 65, graduated from the Faculty of Economics of the Moscow State University in 1981 with distinction, Reuters reported. Born in Moscow, Belousov is reported to have practiced samba and karate in his youth and did not serve in the armed forces. He has long been considered close to Putin.

By 2000, Belousov had been appointed as a nonstaff adviser to the Russian prime minister. In 2006, he joined the economy ministry as a deputy minister.

Between 2008 and 2012, when Putin was serving one term as prime minister to adhere to constitutional term limits, Belousov served as the director of the government’s department for economics and finance.

Belousov was made the minister for economic development in 2012, before transitioning in 2013 to serve as Putin’s economic adviser. He held that role until 2020, when he became first deputy prime minister. Belousov stepped in as acting prime minister when incumbent Mikhail Mishustin contracted COVID-19 in 2020.

“He’s very professional, he’s a technocrat, and he’s very blunt, very straightforward,” Oleg Ignatov—the nongovernmental organization Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Russia—told Newsweek. “He doesn’t like to hide the truth. He can fix problems.” He added: “From Putin’s point of view, it’s a very good appointment.”

“He has his own vision,” Ignatov said, describing Belousov as “very anti-Western” and believing strongly “that the state should play a crucial role in the Russian economy.” Considered “very hawkish” and not corrupt, Ignatov said, the new minister can be expected to launch a major anti-corruption drive.

“Of course, some people will be upset about this, because the military has been very corrupt in Shoigu’s time,” Ignatov said. Many of Shoigu’s allies can be expected to follow him out of the ministry, likely to be replaced by technocrats more of the Belousov mold.

Unlike Shoigu and other top figures, Belousov does not have his own power base or “clan” of allies and dependents. “Belousov is alone,” Ignatov said. “He’s independent and loyal exclusively to Putin.”

And where Shoigu sought to influence battlefield planning, Beluosov is expected to be more restrained. “He will trust the military and military will do their work,” Ignatov said. “Belousov will care about the defense ministry as a big enterprise, and he will manage it as such.”

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) wrote that Belousov’s appointment “is a significant development in Putin’s efforts to set full economic conditions for a protracted war,” noting that the economist is known as an advocate for more government involvement in the economy.

Sergei Shoigu during Victory Day parade 2024

Outgoing Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on May 9, 2024, in Moscow. The long-serving minister will be moved to head Russia’s powerful national security council.
Outgoing Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on May 9, 2024, in Moscow. The long-serving minister will be moved to head Russia’s powerful national security council.
Contributor/Getty Images

Shoigu’s removal comes after two difficult years for the Putin loyalist, who reportedly enjoyed close access to the president and saw his political stock rise significantly after Moscow’s seizure of Crimea in 2014.

But the full-scale invasion of Ukraine quickly revealed that Shoigu had failed to stamp out systemic incompetence and corruption within the military. Russia’s military casualties have ballooned over more than two years of war, with battlefield success limited. Behind the front, the Wagner Group rebellion was a humiliating demonstration of brewing instability within the Russian military elite.

The arrest of Shoigu’s deputy Timur Ivanov on corruption charges last month appeared to be an effort to undermine the outgoing defense minister and lay the groundwork for a reshuffle.

Russia analyst and economics professor at the University of Chicago, Konstantin Sonin, wrote on Twitter—formerly known as X—that the reshuffle shows the war is “not going according to Putin’s plan, but he will endlessly rotate the same small group of loyalists.”

Michael Kofman, a Russian military expert and a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the Financial Times the shake-up showed it was “clear that Russian economic elites performed far better than military elites in this war.”

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.


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