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By John Helmer, Moscow

The longer the delay in the official announcement of who is to be the new Russian Defence Minister, the plainer it is that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wants to oust Sergei Shoigu from the job because he is a rival presidential succession candidate; and because President Vladimir Putin is afraid of the Stavka, the combined forces of the Defence Ministry, General Staff, the intelligence services, and the military-industrial complex, if by dismissing Shoigu Putin is seen to be capitulating to the enemy on each of Russia’s war fronts.

Putin has now had three policymaking meetings with Shoigu, and Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov, in the past three days. Shoigu was also at Putin’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on May 9, and at the session of the Security Council convened the same day. On April 20, Putin met with Shoigu and Gerasimov. For more details, click to open.  

Left: May 15, 2018 – Shoigu, to the President’s right. Centre, May 16, 2018 – Shoigu to the President’s left. Right, May 17, 2018 – Shoigu on the President’s left.

The Kremlin captions for these meetings identify Shoigu as acting Defence Minister. Asked this morning to confirm Shoigu’s status in the new government, Putin’s spokesman said: “An official announcement will appear on our website as soon as it is made.”  The Defence Ministry refuses to respond.

The frequency of Putin’s meetings with the Stavka – Shoigu always wears military uniform at these meetings – is unprecedented. The ensuing silence on Shoigu’s status and of reporting of the uncertainty by Moscow  military analysts and political reporters is also remarkable.  Vzglyad (“Viewpoint”),  the most comprehensive and accurate of the media covering military affairs and closest to the General Staff,  has reported nothing on Shoigu’s survival chances. It made no comment when a week ago Medvedev removed Dmitry Rogozin, Deputy Prime Minister for the military-industrial complex; Rogozin is another potential presidential successor with backing from the military and the state enterprises. He has been sent to Roscosmos, the space agency, but he is taking along with him an expanded role for overseeing production and strategy for Russia’s newest missile weapons and warfighting in space.

As civilian politicians Shoigu and Rogozin benefit from the high trust Russian voters show towards the military command of the country. This is almost as great as popular trust in the presidency; it far outstrips public trust in Medvedev as prime minister and his civilian ministers. In a nationwide poll measuring trust in the leadership institutions last November, the Levada Centre reported 75% full trust in Putin, 69% in the military. Compared to the same poll in 2015, trust in the military has risen, while trust in the president, the Church, the law enforcement authorities and Medvedev’s government has  dwindled.   In Levada surveys over several years, Shoigu has regularly polled half of Putin’s popularity but double that of Medvedev’s. 

Last December, a Levada poll asked Russians across the country the open-ended question – which half-dozen politicians do they trust most?  Shoigu came second to Putin; Medvedev came fifth.  Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov – he is still acting minister and unappointed like Shoigu —  also beat Medvedev.

Source: https://www.levada.ru/2017/12/13/17249/

Last October Levada compared voter ratings for Russian leaders over the past two years. Shoigu and Lavrov have gained steadily in approval; Medvedev has lost. This is the effect of the American war on Russia, reflecting the sentiment among Russians that the leaders who show fight towards the enemy are trusted; those who are perceived as weak and capitulationist are condemned.

On Tuesday Kommersant reported several of its official sources as claiming Shoigu will remain and be reappointed. The sources acknowledged there had been attempts to replace him, but did not explain the motives. The reported candidates for Shoigu’s job are men so close to Putin’s personal security staff that they are unacceptable to the military commanders, who dug in their heels against Putin and in support of Shoigu. The newspaper’s sources were reported as providing no explanation for Putin’s delay in confirming Shoigu in office.

Dmitry Rogozin and Sergei Shoigu at one of the recent meetings with Putin illustrate Kommersant’s front-page.   Source: https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/3628793?query=%D0%A8%D0%BE%D0%B9%D0%B3%D1%83

In a rare show of the heat between Shoigu and Putin, this internet report appeared in Moscow yesterday confirming  there has been a plot to oust Shoigu, and that sentiment towards him has been “spiteful… Unpredictability of the course of events  remains obvious still , despite the published statements, their authoritative tone, and the number of guesses contradicting each other.” Opposition to Shoigu was reportedly coming from the monarchist financier of the Donbass fighters, Konstanin Malofeyev; and from the pro-American director of Ekho Moskva radio, Alexei Venediktov. The publication claims independent sources for “the growing mistrust and hostility between Putin and Shoigu.”

Shoigu, according to this report, is bound to keep his post because he constitutes the “permanent ambulance” of the government. Still, “the intrigue still remains.”

NOTE: several hours after this story had been published on Friday morning, after light lunch at the President's residence in Sochi, Putin received Medvedev and they confirmed the ministers in the new government, including the reappointments of Shoigu as Defence Minister and Lavrov as Foreign Minister. "Mr. Medvedev, you and I have had a preliminary discussion of virtually all candidacies submitted by you," Putin is quoted as saying on the Kremlin website,  "and we have debated some of them this morning." That was at 1345 on the Kremlin website. "I agree," Putin said, "and I will sign all the executive orders on their appointment today." At 1500 the presidential decree finalizing the appointments was published  Among those removed two names are notable:  Sergei Prikhodko, the chief of staff at the prime ministry who had been compromised  by Oleg Deripaska, was replaced by Konstantin Chuichenko, a longtime Kremlin staff man responsible for control operations.  Also removed was Mikhail Abyzov, one of the financiers of Medvedev's presidential campaigns, who was appointed by him to be Minister for Open Government. Abyzov has substantial assets and family in the US.  The portfolio has also been abolished.  Igor Shuvalov, the London resident deputy prime minister, has been removed as deputy prime minister,  as already reported. So, too, Arkady Dvorkovich.  The faction of officials most supportive of the interests of the oligarchs and the capitulation to the US has been diminished. 

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