Questions have been raised about the whereabouts of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu following reports that he has not been seen in public for nearly two weeks, despite being in charge of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Agentstvo [The Agency], a Russian independent investigative news outlet which aims to expose government corruption, reported on Telegram how one of Vladimir Putin’s closest allies last appeared on state-run television on March 11.
Agentstvo, citing an unnamed official, speculated that Shoigu may be unwell and suffering from heart problems although the agency could not confirm that.
In a lengthy post on the messaging service app, Agentstvo reported that Channel One aired a story on March 18 about Shoigu presenting at an awards show that day. However, the photo used to illustrate the story allegedly came from a video posted on Russia’s Ministry of Defense website on March 11.
Shoigu was mentioned on the Kremlin’s website on March 18 in a passage about Putin meeting with members of his Security Council to discuss the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. While Shoigu was reported to be present at the meeting, no pictures or video of him were published on the site.
Shoigu, 66, is said not to have been seen with Putin since he attended a meeting with the Russian president and chief of the general staff Valery Gerasimov in Moscow on February 27, just days after the Ukraine invasion began.
Shoigu’s profile on the Ministry of Defense website has also not been updated since March 11.
Russian forces have met unexpectedly stiff resistance from the Ukrainian military since invading their neighbor on Feb. 24. Britain’s Ministry of Defence said in an intelligence update this week that the Russian advance on the capital Kyiv from the northeast had stalled, although heavy fighting continues in other parts of the country.
As noted by Agentstvo, Shoigu is usually a prominent figure in terms of media appearances for the Kremlin and helped push a campaign to improve the Defense Ministry’s public image when he was put in charge of the department in 2012.
On Tuesday, Dmitry Treschanin, a Russian journalist at independent outlet Mediazona, also noted that the last article about Shoigu to appear on Russian state news agency RIA was on March 11.
“Listen, the great PR minister Shoigu has been out of public space since March 11th. ELEVEN DAYS OF WAR, we do not have the head of the Ministry of Defense,” Treschanin tweeted.
Lots of Telegram chatter today about the whereabouts of Russia's defence minister Sergei Shoigu. Not seen in public for 12 days, not seen with Putin since *that* meeting on 27 Feb where he was ordered to put the nukes on high alert. Photo from happier times. pic.twitter.com/MHp7Y7XvmJ— Jake Cordell (@JakeCordell) March 23, 2022
Jake Cordell, a reporter for The Moscow Times, mentioned how there is “lots of Telegram chatter” about the whereabouts of Shoigu.
“Not seen in public for 12 days, not seen with Putin since *that* meeting on 27 Feb where he was ordered to put the nukes on high alert,” Cordell tweeted before sharing an image of Shoigu and Putin “from happier times” where the pair are on vacation together.
It is also reported that Gerasimov, chief of the general staff of Russia’s armed forces, has not been seen in public since March 11.
Newsweek has not been able to independently verify the reports. Russia’s Defense Ministry has been contacted for comment.