As Russia’s military mobilization continues to face hurdles, a U.S. think tank says Russian President Vladimir Putin will increasingly pin the blame on Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu while shoring up support with other military factions.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) on Wednesday published research concluding that Putin is likely responding to disapproval at home over Russia’s war in Ukraine by setting up Shoigu as a scapegoat. Putin is also growing closer to “radical” elements of his base, the ISW found. The research follows growing public criticism in Russia of Putin after his mobilization order has been marked by administrative gaffes and Russians fleeing the country.
Putin late last month ordered the “partial mobilization” of roughly 300,000 reservists to reinforce his war on Ukraine after being pushed back by the smaller military. About 370,000 Russians have since fled the country and Putin has faced once unlikely critiques from pro-Kremlin bloggers and oligarchs.
According to ISW research, Putin on Wednesday issued an edict deferring mobilization for all students, telling Russian news outlets that the Ministry of Defense (MoD) was to blame for not making “timely changes to the legal framework” of who was affected by the draft.
“That direct critique of the MoD is also an implicit critique of Shoigu, whom Putin appears to be setting up to take the fall for the failures of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine,” the ISW said.
Despite his lack of military background, Putin picked Shoigu as his defense minister in 2012. The U.K. Ministry of Defence published intelligence in August that Shoigu was being “sidelined within the Russian leadership, with operational commanders briefing President Putin directly on the course of the war.”
The ISW pointed out that Andrey Kartapolov, a high-ranking Russian lawmaker, took a veiled swipe at Shoigu, saying on state television that Russians know the ministry has been untruthful and must stop, but the message isn’t reaching “individual leaders.”
“Putin will likely hold off on firing Shoigu for as long as he feels he can in order to continue to blame Shoigu for ongoing military failures and to build up support among other factions,” the ISW said in the report.
Ramzan Kadyrov, head of Russia’s Chechen Republic, said in a Telegram post Wednesday that Putin had awarded him the rank of colonel general. A close supporter of Putin, Kadyrov has called for escalating the war in Ukraine and using “low-yield nuclear weapons” in response to recent setbacks.
The ISW also called out Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov’s praising of Yevgeny Prigozhin, a financier of the Wagner mercenary group, which has reported links to Putin.
The think tank said in the report that Kadyrov’s new rank may signal that Putin is prepared to “appease the more radical and vocal calls” from his base of “siloviki,” which includes Russian police, military and other martial social elements. ISW added that Putin’s shifting support comes at the expense of the conventional military establishment.
Newsweek has reached out to the Russian Ministry of Defense for comment.