‘Crimea is ours,’ President Putin boasted last May. He was speaking on a documentary viewed by millions of Russians, and it was the culminating moment in the militarisation of Russia. Moscow had attracted criticism for spending unprecedented sums on its armed forces under Putin, despite a weak economy over-dependent on oil. The successful annexation of Crimea seemed a perfect vindication.
Yet the huge expansion of Russia’s armed forces budget was instigated not by Putin but by the defence minister, the mysterious Sergey Shoigu.
The ascendancy of the military has propelled Shoigu up the ranks of the power elite to the extent that he is now regarded as the favourite to succeed Putin. And he has become a pivotal global figure after Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian warplane last week, which the Kremlin described as ‘planned provocation’.