Sergei Shoigu out as Russia’s defence minister

It’s reshuffle time in Moscow and it seems that Sergei Shoigu, who has served as Vladimir Putin’s defence minister for the last 12 years, is out. He’s being replaced with Andrei Belousov, an academic economist who has been advising Putin for 20 years and spent the last four as deputy prime minister. It’s a surprise appointment given Belousov’s lack of military experience. Sergei Lavrov, 74, stays as foreign minister, as does Valery Gerasimov, 68, head of the army. Rumours had been swirling about the demotion of Shoigu, 68, for some time, especially after one of his deputies and close allies, Timur Ivanov, was last month thrown in jail pending trial for

Ukrainians can’t trust Putin’s hollow promises

Ukraine’s parliament will soon vote on much-needed conscription regulations which would draft an extra half a million recruits into the army. The categories of eligible men will be expanded, the draft age will be lowered from 27 to 25, and any man caught attempting to evade it will face harsh sanctions or imprisonment. Volodymyr Zelensky has stopped talking about victory coming any time soon. His New Year’s message was grim: everyone must either fight or help through work. Ukrainians are braced for another year of war. But talk of ‘peace’ or ‘compromise’ is still seen as code for a surrender which would reward rather than punish Vladimir Putin’s atrocities, cede

Has Germany finally shaken off its dark past?

In 1982, a board game appeared in West Germany. If you landed on square B9 you were sent to a refugee camp in Hesse where you became ill from loneliness, unfamiliar food and not being allowed to work. Worse still, you had to miss a go and spend the free time thinking about ‘how you would feel in such a situation’. Even if, like me, your childhood was spent crying over lost games of Monopoly, nothing could quite prepare you for the cheerless experience of playing ‘Flight and Expulsion Across the World’. It’s unlikely an updated version has been commissioned for our home secretary, with players assigned counters representing the

Must we live in perpetual fear of being named and shamed?

You should feel thoroughly ashamed of reading this infamous rag. Or else you might decide to revel, shamelessly, in its critics’ prim disapproval. From political squalls to global wars, David Keen argues that a ‘spiral of shame’ and shamelessness now traps individuals and societies in arid cycles of pain, rage and revenge. Manipulative actors – ‘advertisers, warmongers, terrorists, tyrants and charlatans’ – sell us ‘magical solutions’ to the anguish of the shame they themselves stoke. But they merely pass the burden to other groups, leaving us with more suffering. Keen writes: ‘Such actors do with shame what the Mafia does with fear.’ The author teaches conflict studies at the LSE.

How the West plays up to Putin’s caricature

In an outstanding article in the New York Times, Roger Cohen recounted his experience of travelling across Russia for a full month, and hats off to the veteran journalist for risking a shared cell with the Wall Street Journal ‘spy’ Evan Gershkovich. Cohen explains that Vladimir Putin is successfully flogging his war in Ukraine to the Russian people as a battle against the whole spiritually depraved West, no longer the home of ruthless capitalism but of ‘sex changes, the rampages of drag queens, barbaric gender debates and an LGBTQ takeover’. In a tirade last November, Putin lambasted the US and ‘other unfriendly foreign states’ for ‘selfishness, permissiveness, immorality, the denial

Russian military chief lets slip the cost of invasion

When it comes to disclosing the true cost of the war in Ukraine for Russia, the Kremlin has rarely, if ever, chosen to be honest. But occasionally, things slip out. Last Wednesday, Mikhail Teplinsky, commander-in-chief of the Russian Airborne Forces, congratulated his troops on the anniversary of the division’s founding. He said how proud he was of the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine and reeled off the number of soldiers honoured as ‘Heroes of Russia’, as well as the 30,000 who had received other honours from the state. A video of his speech, below, was posted to the Russian ministry of defence’s social media channels and website. But the video

Why Putin still needs Wagner

It will be a matter of deep regret for Vladimir Putin that, in the wake of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s ill-fated attempt to overthrow Russia’s military establishment, he has finally been forced to come clean about the Kremlin’s association with the Wagner Group. Deniability is a vital facet for a veteran spook like Putin. Even when Wagner’s band of mercenary cut-throats were spearheading the assault on the east Ukrainian city of Bakhmut earlier this year, the Russian leader rebutted claims of Prigozhin’s involvement. ‘He runs a restaurant business, it is his job – he is a restaurant keeper in St Petersburg,’ Putin told Austrian television. Putin’s challenge is to maintain Wagner’s global operations

The Wagner Group isn’t Russia’s only private army

Allowing a psychopath to form a private army of violent criminals may not, on reflection, have been Vladimir Putin’s greatest idea. But Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mutinous Wagner Group is by no means the only private army operating in Russia. Over the past couple of months no fewer than five armies have been fighting on Russian soil. Only one of them, the official Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, is directly subordinate to the Kremlin. Pay can run to £2,400 a month, an attractive offer when the average wage in the provinces is under £600 The 12,000-strong semi-irregular forces of Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov, officially known as the 141st Special Motorised Regiment

The Wagner uprising has left Putin isolated

Both Vladimir Putin and the mercenary Wagner Group have been dramatically weakened by yesterday’s attempted coup. Wagner’s nominal leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, goes into exile while his group will no doubt lose its privileged status. Putin, meanwhile, has been publicly and massively humiliated, a dangerous position for an autocrat. Firstly, Putin’s famed security forces proved completely helpless during a mutiny. Secondly, the mutineers – whom he called ‘traitors’ and promised to severely punish – will go unpunished. Putin had to make major concessions to bring an end to the coup, although what those concessions include is not yet clear. What is clear is that he was unable to crush the most

This failed coup will be just the beginning

Yevgeny Prigozhin has just exposed the full extent of Vladimir Putin’s weakness. In less than 24 hours, the leader of the Wagner mercenary group made extraordinary progress – taking control of the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, the headquarters of the Southern Miliary District, and posing the most serious challenge to Putin’s leadership. The president did not look all-powerful, but unable to control Prigozhin as he said his 25,000 troops were willing to march on Moscow. Back on 9 May, when Prigozhin’s challenge to Vladimir Putin first became evident, I argued in The Spectator against the idea that Putin was ‘in charge’ of the situation. My analysis was based on

Prigozhin leaves Rostov

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner mercenary group, has left Rostov-on-Don and ended the armed insurrection against Vladimir Putin. After one of the most extraordinary days in Russian history, he said he marched within 125 miles of Moscow but said he decided to go no further to avoid bloodshed. Putin, who had ordered his army to crush Prigozhin and imprison his men, has agreed to drop all charges. After a Belarus-brokered peace deal, Prigozhin will self-exile in Minsk, according to the Kremlin. Footage emerged showing him being bid farewell by cheering crowds in Rostov and winding down his window to greet them. A few hours earlier, he released the

Putin’s nuclear reshuffle is designed to antagonise Nato

Days before Nato leaders descend on Vilnius for the alliance’s annual summit next month, things will be afoot just across the border in Belarus. In a meeting with Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko at his summer residence in Sochi on Friday, Putin revealed that Russia will start deploying nuclear weapons to the country on the weekend of 7 and 8 July.  Putin’s decision to move nuclear weapons into Belarus just three days before the Nato summit begins in Lithuania is almost certainly no coincidence. As the alliance he regularly rages about prepares to sit down to discuss defence and deterrence, the Russian president is metaphorically puffing out his chest to remind

The lives of even anti-Putin Russian artists are being made impossible

Swift and sure, the guillotine blade came down on Russians in the West on 24 February last year, the day Russia invaded Ukraine. The logic was clear as concerned Putin loyalists; cutting them off from western gravy trains in the face of their dear leader’s grotesque aggression made some sense. They could bed down with the devil, so to speak, but not on our buck. So one doesn’t weep much over the relegation to Europe’s fringes of the likes of openly pro-Putin musicians such as pianist Denis Matsuev or the former LSO and Munich Philharmonic chief conductor Valery Gergiev. Then there’s the soprano Anna Netrebko, who, seen as being close

Erdogan’s plan for war, and peace

There are ‘global issues that we both have on our plates’, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said, mysteriously, when he met with his Turkish counterpart last week. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, standing by Blinken’s side, thought the same. ‘We will focus on areas of partnership in bilateral and regional issues.’ Diplomacy as usual, then. Behind the boring platitudes lies a serious rift between Turkey and the United States. In late December, Syrian and Turkish defence ministers met in Moscow in the first proper meeting between the two governments in a decade. There are plans for another meeting between foreign ministers that could lead to a direct meeting between Turkey’s

Why Putin won’t take Hitler’s way out

The last time Europe fought a major war, there was no shortage of planning. We knew what peace meant. Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt issued their Atlantic Charter in August 1941, before the Allied victory was anywhere close. This was followed by more meetings and conferences, including in Tehran in 1943 and later at Yalta, in Crimea, in 1945. The fighting never stopped, but there was a lot of thinking about the future of Germany, Europe and the new world order.  This sort of thinking is less evident today with Ukraine. Maybe it’s because Russia’s war in Ukraine, as bad as it is, isn’t yet a world war. It is

Putin’s war has exacted a terrible toll on Ukraine

Putin badly miscalculated. The Russian army terribly underperformed. Kyiv has shown unexpected resilience in the face of what experts thought was far superior Russian firepower. This, we’re told, is the story of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and all of it is true. Vladimir Putin’s talk of a ‘dirty bomb’ is evidence of how badly the war is going for him. Russia has been taught a bitter lesson, one that other trigger-happy, self-proclaimed great powers would be wise to heed. But one part has been missed. For all of Russia’s difficulties, it is in a far better shape than Ukraine. Fighting has left Ukraine in ruin. Consider these eye-watering statistics: at

What Zelensky has taken from his former TV career

Volodymyr Zelensky is one of the few leaders of modern times whose charisma, determination and sheer cojones can be said, without exaggeration, to have changed the course of history. In the first hours of the Russian invasion the US famously offered to evacuate him from Kyiv to a safer location, to which his response was (in spirit, if not in actual words): ‘I need ammo, not a ride.’ His determination to remain in the heart of his besieged capital seriously confounded Putin’s invasion plans, which were predicated on quickly toppling or murdering him. And Zelensky’s idea to film himself and his top advisers on his iPhone strolling down Kyiv’s Bankova

Is Putin preparing a nuclear strike?

Russia is peddling implausible tales of Ukrainian ‘dirty bombs’. Kyiv and the West are embarked on a campaign to counter this propaganda, and again the talk is of the risk of Moscow using weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine. And that’s the point. First of all, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu broke months of relative silence – with the West, at least – and called his British, American, French and Turkish counterparts. His main message was to assert, with no evidence in support of his claims, that Kyiv was preparing to use a dirty bomb. This is a conventional munition, around which is packed radioactive materials, which is dispersed when

What does Russia really want?

The question of ‘why’ Russia invaded Ukraine has been forgotten amid war’s fog. Greed and malice partially explains it. History, geopolitics and culture reveals more. A country which has more land than anyone else on Earth is not grabbing territory for territory’s sake. Logically, Russia should be giving away land to anyone who might manage it better. But that’s not how Putin thinks. He is pursuing a dogged policy of annexations – first in Georgia, then in the Crimea, and now of four further Ukrainian districts. Logically, Russia’s neighbours have more to fear than Russia has. But that’s not how Putin feels Equally, a country which owns the world’s biggest stockpile of

Tsar Vladimir brings in martial law

Martial law can arrive with a bang: tanks on the streets, Swan Lake on the TV. It can also creep up on a country in the guise of a presidential edict with the title ‘The Decree On Measures taken in the Constituent Entities of the Russian Federation in Connection with the Decree of the President of the Russian Federation of October 19, 2022 No. 756’. Either way, Vladimir Putin has just moved Russia one step closer to totalitarianism. What is interesting is just how long and half-hearted a process this has been. When Putin invaded Ukraine in February, the sharpest-beaked hawks in his entourage were urging total war, and with