Sergei Shoigu: Questions swirl over Russian defense minister’s whereabouts

Shoigu, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, has recently kept a low profile despite his leading role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Independent Russian investigative media Agentstvo reported on Wednesday that Shoigu was in poor health, citing unnamed sources within the ministry.
Peskov dodged questions about Shoigu’s health on Thursday. “The Minister of Defense has a lot on his plate right now,” he said when asked by CNN about Shoigu’s reported absence. “The special military operation is underway. Naturally, this is not exactly the time for media activity, it is completely understandable.”

The Kremlin spokesman declined to refute Agentstvo’s report when asked by CNN. “I can’t. You shouldn’t listen to Agenstvo media. Please address [these questions to] the Ministry of Defence.”

Shoigu appeared on a Channel One broadcast on March 18 which the Russian outlet says is from that day, but Russian journalists have speculated that the broadcast event was from March 11.

The public television channel Russia 24 broadcast images on Thursday of a virtual meeting Shoigu attended, but did not say when the meeting took place.

The presenter quoted Peskov as suggesting that Shoigu was remotely delivering a report to the National Security Council on the military operation in Ukraine. The broadcast footage, which interrupted a live interview, did not show Shoigu speaking, but his image appeared on screen among other participants in the video call reporting to Putin.

During a televised Security Council meeting in Russia on March 11, Shoigu told Putin that his invasion of Ukraine was proceeding successfully, despite evidence to the contrary.

Western leaders said at the time that the Russian military encountered unforeseen obstacles and resistance.

“Everything is going according to plan, we’re reporting to you here every day this week,” Shoigu said.

He also claimed that the Russian military had received more than 16,000 applications from Middle Eastern volunteers wishing to join the war in Ukraine.

The Defense Minister also asked Putin for more weapons to arm the separatist regions of the Ukrainian Donbass.

Russian military leaders, including Shoigu, have blocked their American counterparts, refusing calls since the invasion began, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement Thursday. He added that US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark A. Milley “have sought and continue to seek calls with their Russian counterparts. Minister Shoigu and General (Valery) Gerasimov have so far refused to engage.”

“We continue to believe that engagement between U.S. and Russian defense leaders is critically important at this time,” Kirby added.

CNN previously reported that the last known time Austin spoke with Shoigu was Feb. 18. Milley last spoke to Gerasimov on February 1.

Sent quit

The speculation over Shoigu’s health comes as a longtime Russian government insider, Anatoly Chubais, has become the most high-profile Kremlin figure to quit since the war began a month ago.

Peskov confirmed that Chubais had left his post as Putin’s climate envoy, but denied any knowledge of Chubais’ reported opposition to the invasion of Ukraine.

“No, the Kremlin doesn’t know,” Peskov told CNN when asked to comment on reports suggesting Chubais quit his job over disapproval of Putin’s decision to go to war in Ukraine.

Anatoly Chubais has become the most high-profile Kremlin figure to resign since the war began a month ago.

Peskov also confirmed that his resignation letter should be sent to Putin himself.

“Those appointed by presidential decree write (resignation letters) addressed to Putin,” he added.

Peskov said Chubais was not a full-time government employee and worked on a voluntary basis.

Chubais first rose to prominence as Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s finance minister in the 1990s before moving into senior positions in Russia’s energy industry.


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