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Sergey Shoigu, where are you? Amid war against Ukraine, Russia’s defense minister hasn’t been seen in public for 12 days
It’s been 28 days since Russia went to war against Ukraine. And it’s been 12 days since the public has laid eyes on Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu. Indeed, as first pointed out by Mediazona journalist Dmitry Treshchanin, Shoigu hasn’t appeared in public or in the press since March 11.
Seizing upon this detail, the investigative outlet Agentstvo took an in-depth look at the Russian defense minister’s media presence since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. The last news updates on his Defense Ministry profile are dated March 11. That day, Shoigu had a phone call with his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar and then went to the Mandryka Central Military Clinical Hospital in Moscow, where he handed out awards to Russian soldiers who had “distinguished themselves in the special military operation.”
The next official news update about Shoigu is dated March 18. According to the Kremlin’s website, the defense minister took part in a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the permanent members of the National Security Council, which was held via video link. The Kremlin didn’t publish any photos or videos of this meeting.
That same day, the state-controlled television channel Perviy Kanal (Channel One) aired footage of Shoigu presenting awards to soldiers who took part in the “special military operation.” Channel One claimed that the awards were being bestowed “today,” but journalists noticed that the footage matched the video the Defense Ministry had released on March 11.
As Agentstvo notes, between the start of the invasion and March 11, there were reports of Shoigu personally taking part in various events every few days. The timeline for this period is as follows:
- February 24: Shoigu issued instructions to establish safe corridors for Ukrainian soldiers who lay down their arms and told the military to “treat them with respect”;
- February 25: Shoigu met with Armenian Defense Minister Suren Papikyan;
- February 27: Shoigu met with Putin, who issued instructions for Russia’s deterrence forces to be put on high alert;
- March 1: Shoigu held a conference call with the leadership of the Russian Armed Forces, during which he stated that the army will continue its “special operation” in Ukraine “until its goals are achieved.” Shoigu also spoke on the phone with Turkey’s defense minister.
- March 4: Shoigu spoke with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres by phone;
- March 8: Shoigu had another phone call with the Turkish defense minister.
Shoigu is usually very active in the media, Agentstvo writes. In a September 2021 investigation, the outlet called PR the defense minister’s “main weapon.” Allegedly, Shoigu’s public image is so important that a wide variety of people are involved in his PR — from rank-and-file Defense Ministry employees to “bigtime generals and private contractors whose services cost a lot of money.”
Among other things, Agentstvo’s investigation claims that when Shoigu took up the post of Defense Minister in 2012, the ministry’s press service began working around the clock, the size of its staff grew sharply, and Shoigu’s deputies were charged with monitoring media coverage and preventing negative press.
Asked about Shoigu being out of the spotlight since March 11, a source in the defense minister’s entourage told Agentstvo that he is unwell and has “heart problems.” Agentstvo was unable to reach the Russian Defense Ministry or Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov for comment.
Update: On March 24, Russian state media published a video of Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu attending a National Security Council meeting with President Vladimir Putin (albeit via video link). That same day, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refuted media reports that Shoigu is suffering from health problems.
Translation by Eilish Hart
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