Belousov says Russia must win in Ukraine while minimising casualties

Nominee for Russian defence minister Belousov visits Federation Council
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By Guy Faulconbridge and Mark Trevelyan

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russia's main task is to achieve victory on the battlefield in Ukraine with the minimal loss of troops, incoming defence minister Andrei Belousov said on Tuesday.

Belousov, an economist whom President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly nominated on Sunday to replace Sergei Shoigu, said the military sector needed more efficiency and innovation in order to achieve its goals.

"The key task, of course, remains achieving victory. Ensuring the achievement of the military-political goals of the special military operation, set by the president. At the same time - I want to specifically emphasise this - with minimal human losses," he told a parliamentary hearing.

His comments were striking because Russian officials rarely discuss casualties in the war except to praise the heroism of fallen soldiers.

Neither Russia nor Ukraine publishes details of their dead and wounded. But Western military analysts say Russia, with a population more than three times larger than Ukraine's, has shown itself much more willing to incur heavy casualties for the sake of even incremental gains. Russian officials say such analysis, as it comes from the West, is neither objective nor accurate.

Belousov presented himself as a man of integrity, telling parliamentarians: "I have always been, and will be, guided by the reinforced concrete principle 'You can make mistakes (but) you can't lie'."

That was a pointed comment, given that he is taking charge of a ministry embroiled in a major corruption investigation that damaged his predecessor Shoigu. The scandal widened on Tuesday with the arrest of another senior official suspected of bribery.

Belousov, who has no military experience, has been tasked by Putin with maximising efficiencies in Russia's war economy as its troops, having regained the initiative, attempt to push deeper into Ukraine.

He said defence spending needed to be optimised so that "every rouble of budget money, which is ultimately paid by our citizens, brings maximal effect".

"Everything in the country that is effective and advanced - everything must work to achieve victory, to ensure the armed forces can complete their tasks," he said.

But there was no need for another mass call-up of Russian troops, he said. Putin ordered a mobilisation of 300,000 reservists in late 2022, in an unpopular move that prompted hundreds of thousands of Russians to flee the country to avoid being drafted.

Belousov said that Russia needed to work out "new methods of waging warfare" in order to stay ahead.

"The enemy is learning quickly. The situation related to the use of new technologies changes literally every week. And here we need not just to learn, we need to preempt the enemy."

(Additional reporting by Darya Korsunskaya and Lucy Papachristou; writing by Mark Trevelyan and Alex Richardson)