Kyiv, Ukraine – Appointing an economist to helm a defence ministry during a war may sound like a recipe for disaster.

Andrei Belousov, who is set to become Russia’s new defence minister after President Vladimir Putin “suggested” his candidacy to his rubber-stamp parliament on Sunday, does not have any military experience under his belt.

The tall, white-haired, 65-year-old did not serve in the Soviet Army, thanks to his studies at Moscow State University in the late 1970s.

Back then, his father Ram Belousov was part of a team of economists that wanted to reform the Soviet economy.

Belousov junior seems to have inherited his father’s belief in the state’s dominant role in the economy.

Serving as Russia’s economics development minister (2012-13), Putin’s adviser (2013-20) and his first deputy prime minister (since 2020), Belousov has become one of the architects of “Putinomics”.

In the past two years, he helped alleviate the consequences of sanctions the West slapped on Moscow after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

After showing unexpected resilience to the sanctions, Russia’s economy is being switched to wartime mode keeping military plants working in shifts and channelling billions of dollars on new weaponry and payments to servicemen and their families.

“Putin needs an ‘arsenal of autocracy’ that can outperform Ukraine and Western manufacturing and speed of innovation,” retired United States Army Major General Gordon Skip Davis Jr said, referring to the “arsenal of democracy,” Washington’s military aid to the Allies during World War II.

INTERACTIVE-WHO CONTROLS WHAT IN UKRAINE-1715161844
(Al Jazeera)

Belousov will have to boost the quantity and speed of manufacturing of munitions, missiles, drones, combat vehicles, artillery, air defence and electronic warfare systems for offensive operations in Ukraine and domestic air defence in Russia and occupied Ukrainian regions, Davis told Al Jazeera.

And while not tasked with tactical direction of Russia’s military, Belousov would “ideally have to inject innovation and quality into defence production and limit corruption where possible”, Davis said.

Therefore, Belousov’s appointment sounds like very bad news for Ukraine.

“This is an unexpected, but, unfortunately for Ukraine, a very effective move,” Kyiv-based analyst Aleksey Kushch told Al Jazeera.

Unlike many top Russian officials, Belousov has not been involved in corruption scandals and has a reputation as a workaholic technocrat and a devout Orthodox Christian.

Putin wants him to clean the Augean stables of the defence ministry so that military spending spearheads the resurgence of Russia’s economy, Kushch said.

“The effectiveness of Russia’s military-industrial complex will be boosted, and instead of being a ‘black hole’ of budget spendings, the defence ministry may become a driver of economic growth, when war spendings stimulate the growth of Russia’s GDP,” he said.

Other observers agree.

Belousov’s appointment “will dramatically increase the defence ministry’s effectiveness and decrease corruption,” Nikolay Mitrokhin of Germany’s Bremen University told Al Jazeera.

“So, more money will flow – not to the foreign accounts of top generals and the construction of their pompous palaces, but to the development of new arms, formation and equipment of new military units, their training,” he said.

“All of that will result in a significant boost of their military prowess and effectiveness – something that is absolutely not necessary for Ukraine amid its heavy battles with the Russian army,” he said.

The defence ministry has been beset by corruption.

When one of its administrators Yevgeniya Vasilyeva, was arrested in 2012, police found 19 kilogrammes of gold and 51,000 gems stashed in glass jars in her luxurious Moscow apartment.

Her boss, Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, was sacked and replaced with Sergei Shoigu, a highly popular emergencies minister who, like Belousov, had zero military experience.

Shoigu became the longest serving minister in Putin’s government and was even touted as his possible successor despite being a native of Tuva, a Buddhist province on the Mongolian border.

But his reputation slid downhill after Russia’s blitzkrieg to seize Kyiv failed in the spring of 2022 and Ukraine regained several key areas within months.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner private army, ruthlessly and obscenely lambasted Shoigu for delayed supplies of ammunition, incompetence and corruption.

Even Prigozhin’s death in a plane crash last July, the disbanding of Wagner and a string of Russia’s battlefield successes in eastern Ukraine earlier this year could not save Shoigu.

In April, his deputy Timur Ivanov was arrested on bribery charges in what was widely seen as a sign of Shoigu’s imminent fall from Putin’s grace.

On Tuesday, the defence ministry’s chief human resources officer, Yuri Kuznetsov, was detained on unspecified charges – a possible sign of a wider purge of Shoigu’s team.

A Ukrainian military expert sees Belousov’s appointment as a reflection of the internecine struggle in Moscow – and says that his ministry’s work will be far from effective while the new head is adjusting and forming his own team.

“For now, with the new appointment, while working things out, he won’t be able to manage things effectively,” Lieutenant General Ihor Romanenko, former deputy head of Ukraine’s general staff of armed forces, told Al Jazeera.

“For a while, this is good news,” he said.

Putin used his nominal “return” to power after his fifth election in March to “purge dangerous allies and get them out of the equation,” Romanenko said.

He said that the Kremlin may even bring back Sergey Surovikin, a top general who led the invasion of Ukraine but was demoted after his involvement in Prigozhin’s May 2023 riot.

‘Protracted war in Ukraine’

After Prigozhin’s death, Shoigu boosted his clout because his ministry managed colossal budgets – leaving plenty of room for unprecedented corruption.

“Belousov’s task will be about a strict audit of expenses and the entire military organisation because strange figures go to the top for almost a whole year,” Pavel Luzin, a military analyst with the Jamestown Foundation, a think tank in Washington, DC, told Al Jazeera.

Shoigu will now head the Security Council – and replace Nikolai Patrushev, Putin’s former colleague in the Soviet-era KGB and one of the mightiest security chiefs in Russia.

Belousov’s appointment signals the Kremlin’s willingness to keep fighting in Ukraine and possibly start a conflict with NATO over the USSR’s former stomping ground in Eastern Europe, the Institute for the Study of War, a Western military think tank, concluded.

“Putin is taking significant steps towards mobilising the Russian economy and defence industrial base to support a protracted war in Ukraine and possibly prepare for a future confrontation with NATO,” it said.

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