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Genius or madness? Why Putin wants an economist to be Russia's new defense minister at a key point in the war

A government reshuffle was always in the cards after Russian President Vladimir Putin was sworn in last week as Russia's leader for a fifth term.

But Putin's replacement of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was unexpected — and his choice of successor, civilian economist Andrei Belousov, was even more of a surprise.

The appointment of Belousov — a technocrat who has served in various roles in Russia's government, including as minister of economic development and deputy prime minister — is bound to raise eyebrows in military circles, but it comes as defense spending surges and Putin prepares the country and economy for a long war in Ukraine.

As such, the appointment of an economist to the defense ministry is being widely seen as a way to marry Russia's immense defense needs with the booming war-oriented economy and military-industrial complex.

"These high-level reshuffles following the Russian presidential election strongly suggest that Putin is taking significant steps towards mobilizing the Russian economy and defense industrial base to support a protracted war in Ukraine and possibly prepare for a future confrontation with NATO," analysts at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said Sunday.

Analysts at the Washington-based think tank noted that Belousov's lack of military experience is not anomalous given the fact that his predecessor Shoigu also had no prior experience. Instead, the ISW noted, it was likely that the Kremlin intended Belousov to "integrate and streamline" Russia's defense industrial base with the country's wider domestic economic policy.

"Belousov's nearly decade-long tenure as an economic minister in the Russian federal government and his more recent involvement managing various domestic defense industrial