Russian defence minister and long-time Putin ally Sergei Shoigu to be replaced

Russia's defence minister is set to be replaced, more than two years into the war in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed replacing his long-time ally Sergei Shoigu with civilian and former deputy prime minister Andrei Belousov, who specialises in economics.

Mr Shoigu, who has served as defence minister since 2012, will take up a role as head of the national security council and have responsibilities for the military-industrial complex, the Kremlin said.

Ukraine war latest: Putin reshuffle points to 'serious instability'

In his new role, Mr Shoigu will replace Nikolai Patrushev, whose new job will be announced soon, according to the Kremlin.

Mr Putin's press secretary Dmitriy Peskov said the president decided the ministry of defence should be headed by a civilian to be "open to innovation and advanced ideas".

The shuffle could also be seen as an attempt by Mr Putin to scrutinise defence spending after a Shoigu ally, deputy defence minister Timur Ivanov, was accused by state prosecutors of taking a bribe.

But the changes make sense, Mr Peskov claims, because Russia is approaching a situation like the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s, when the military and law enforcement authorities accounted for 7.4% of spending.

Former MI6 intelligence officer Christopher Steele, who ran the Russia desk between 2006 and 2009, told Sky News he takes Mr Peskov's words "with a pinch of salt".

"It seems to me that probably the reason he's chosen Belousov is because he's not really any kind of player in the system or any sort of threat to Putin," he added.

He also said Mr Patrushev's appointment may hint at instability "right underneath him in the top leadership".

"It was clear to most of us Russia-watchers for some time that Patrushev was lining up his son, Dmitry, who's the current agriculture minister, to be Putin's successor as president," he said.

"And there have been some indications that there's been some serious instability at the top in Russia in recent months… so I think that this really is a very significant move by Putin."

Commenting on Mr Shoigu's removal, the UK's defence minister, Grant Shapps, said he leaves with a "disastrous legacy".

"Sergei Shoigu has overseen over 355,000 casualties among his own soldiers and mass civilian suffering with an illegal campaign in Ukraine," Mr Shapps said.

"Russia needs a defence minister who would undo that disastrous legacy and end the invasion - but all they'll get is another of Putin's puppets."

Parliament's approval of the new appointments are all but guaranteed, as there is virtually no opposition.

By law, the government in Russia had to resign just before Mr Putin was sworn in as president for another six-year term on Tuesday.

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Analysts have said he is looking to project an image of stability and satisfaction with his team's progress, with Mikhail Mishustin remaining in post as prime minister on Friday.

As he continues to confirm his top team, Mr Putin has also proposed Sergei Lavrov remain as foreign minister.

Valery Gerasimov, the chief of Russia's general staff, will remain in his position as well.