Politics
July 15: What happened?
July 27, 2022
Nikolai Petrov
Senior Research Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Programme, The Royal Institute of International Affairs
Contrary to expectations, no major decisions were taken at the extraordinary Duma meeting on July 15. Nikolai Petrov writes that Putin might have been forced to back down from plans to announce that the Donbas had been “liberated.”
Vladimir Putin with Denis Manturov, 2021. Source: Wiki Commons
On July 15, a little over a week after the end of the Duma’s spring session, deputies, having been urgently called back from trips to their regions, were convened for an extraordinary meeting. A wave of rumors was triggered about why it had been suddenly scheduled just a couple of days before. At first an extraordinary meeting of the Federation Council and Duma was planned, along with a meeting of the Security Council – like six months earlier, when the LNR and DNR were recognized.

Rumors had it that referendums, followed by annexation, were to be held on Ukrainian territory occupied by the Russian army, that Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin would step down and be replaced by Alexei Kudrin, that Kudrin himself would resign and the leadership of the Accounts Chamber would be reshuffled, and that some landmark government initiatives would be considered in three readings and passed at once.

Putin's signing on July 12 of a decree making Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov a deputy prime minister (making their number 11) supported the theory that the July 15 emergency meeting would concern personnel changes. It was backed up by consultations that Manturov had held with Duma factions.

Mishustin's government had 11 deputy prime ministers for just three days before a new decree bringing their number back to 10 was issued on July 15. In fact, the government had 11 deputy prime ministers for only one minute – from 14:44 on July 15, when Manturov was appointed, until 14:45, when Putin signed a decree dismissing Yuri Borisov.
Everything was done hastily, on the fly

Thus, on July 15 Putin actually carried out a personnel reshuffle in the top echelons of executive power: Manturov was appointed deputy prime minister, while Borisov lost the position and was appointed head of Roskosmos to replace the Dmitri Rogozin, who was dismissed.

The Duma, following a two-hour hearing with Manturov, approved him as deputy PM almost unanimously: 394 votes with one abstention. This despite the fact that according to Duma Budget and Tax Committee Chairman and United Russia member Andrei Makarov, the state program for import substitution, for which Manturov was responsible, was a failure.

Besides the personnel reshuffle, on July 15 several minor legislative initiatives were considered by the Duma, including the idea voiced at a July 7 meeting between Putin and Duma party leaders to give border guards involved in the “special military operation” the status of combat veterans.
The meeting came and went, deputy PMs were changed, yet questions remain. Why the rush? Which of the decisions in the Manturov-Borisov-Rogozin reshuffle is the key one? What is the advantage of the immediate replacement of Borisov with Manturov?"
The conventional wisdom that Manturov was entrusted with such an important area as import substitution, and that the status of deputy PM is needed to coordinate the efforts of various departments, is hardly satisfactory. Firstly, the system is far from being so legalistic that Putin’s appointments should be immediately and formally confirmed by the Duma, and secondly, to support interdepartmental coordination chairing the collegium of the Military-Industrial Commission would be enough – Borisov has held the position and continues to.

The approval of a deputy PM is not a reason at all for an emergency meeting of deputies in the middle of summer. The Security Council met the same day and, according to the Kremlin readout, discussed the situation in Russia’s provinces based on information provided by FSB head Alexander Bortnikov and Internal Affairs chief Vladimir Kolokoltsev.

What then was this? It seems that the reshuffle is attributable to a hysterical reaction by Putin to reports of a turning point in the war for the Ukrainian side.

Recent events on the front have called into question the effectiveness of Russian weapons and seemingly forced Putin to abandon his plan to announce that important military objectives had been reached and fire Borisov, the long-term curator of the program to rearm the army with cutting-edge weapons.
Ukrainian HIMARS in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, early July 2022. Source: Wiki Commons
Collapse of the myth of Russian military power

If we look at the events preceding July 15, the following picture emerges:

June 24. The first batch of HIMARS multiple rocket launchers is delivered to Ukraine and are used to shell Snake Island.

June 30. Under fire from MLRS and long-range artillery provided by the West, the Russian army is forced to abandon Snake Island.

July 1. At a brief meeting of the permanent members of the Security Council, issues with military-industrial complex enterprises are discussed

July 4. The Kremlin announces that Russian troops occupied the entire territory of Lugansk Region; two commanders of the troops receive the title of Hero of Russia.

July 12. Particularly devastating HIMARS attacks are carried out on Nova Kakhovka and Lugansk. Prior to this, they caused serious damage to Russian military infrastructure in a number of areas: Melitopol, Svatov, Izyum, Perevalsk, Stakhanov, Donetsk and Snezhny.

July 16-18. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visits Russian forces in Ukraine with instructions that destroying Ukraine’s long-range weapons is a priority.

The partial loss of the initiative by the Russian military and headlines about a turning point in the battle for Donbas (for example, here and here) obscured the “mission accomplished” moment and angered Putin.

Perhaps what is important is not so much HIMARS as such but the obvious advantage of Western superweapons, for which Russia has no answer.
The long-range artillery supplied to Ukraine by the West has done its job, helping to retake Snake Island, which in itself represents a serious strategic and PR defeat."
All this undermines the Putin myth of Russian technological superiority in the military sphere. The blame ended up falling on Borisov, who had been in charge of rearmament for many years but overlooked drones and failed to provide the capability to effectively counter American weapons.

Putin had to turn to Iran for drones and God for help (The Trinity by Andrey Rublev was temporarily transferred from the Tretyakov Gallery to the Trinity Lavra of St Sergius).

All the work to “liberate Donbass” and raise the victory banner unexpectedly went down the drain.
A meeting of the Military Industrial Commission on 19 September 2015. Source: Wiki Commons
When was the emergency meeting scheduled?

Following this logic, we must answer when and why the emergency meeting of the Duma was planned, whether it was an improvisation after the taking of the whole Lugansk Region, or conversely the official announcement of that on July 4 was a prelude.

It seems that the summons of deputies from their trips could have been planned in advance, before the end of the spring session. But Putin apparently abandoned the original plan at the last minute, when the reports about Ukrainian victories and talk about a turnaround for the them in the Donbass couldn’t be quashed. It was then that Putin exiled Borisov to Roskosmos and sent Shoigu to the front to counter the American MLRS and long-range artillery.

Borisov is a techie, engineer, doctor of technical sciences. He entered government service at the beginning of Putin's second presidential term, and since 2011 has been Putin's deputy on the Military Industrial Commission. In 2017, when he was deputy defense minister in charge of military-technical support Borisov was named Hero of Russia by a nonpublic presidential decree. A few months later, in his 2018 presidential address Putin enthusiastically presented footage of Russian military might and wonder weapons.

Manturov is of a younger generation, business-oriented, as the media has written, “a minister with the habits of an oligarch.” He is close to Sergei Chemezov and linked to him through a number of family businesses.
Today, Manturov is the highest-ranking offspring from Putin’s entourage or friends of his entourage."
(In addition, simultaneously with Manturov’s appointment came the news that Putin's daughter Katerina Tikhonova had become cochair of the new Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs Coordination Council for Import Substitution and Technological Independence, chaired by Alexander Shokhin.) In his decade-long tenure as industry and trade minister, Manturov can’t boast of any notable achievements (but rather disappointments).

The replacement of Borisov with Manturov as deputy PM in charge of the military-industrial complex and now all import substitution actually represents the transfer of leadership and responsibility of both spheres to Chemezov.

The events of July 15 serve as a clear demonstration that the war has exacerbated the managerial inefficiency of the Putin system. Decision-making has become even more closed and government management even more single-handed, while the lack of accountability of Putin, who acts on a whim and makes top-level appointments based on personal loyalty, has deepened. July 15 is also a demonstration that the search for culprits for the failure of the bloody military adventure in Ukraine is now approaching the very top.
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