Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was seen Thursday for the first time in some two weeks, for the briefest of moments, in a video released by the Kremlin, as his absence from view prompted questions from journalists.
Shoigu, a close ally of Putin and a leading architect of Russia’s floundering invasion of Ukraine, last appeared in public on March 11. His disappearance has prompted speculation of health problems, or punishment for his questionable stewardship of the military.
A short video of Russian President Vladimir Putin holding video conference consultations released Thursday showed Shoigu as one of the participants. But coming in the wake of speculation on the minister’s disappearance, some media outlets wondered whether the brief clip was included solely to silence concerns.
The Kremlin said Thursday that Shoigu was too busy for public appearances.
“The defense minister has a lot to take care of at the moment. There is a special military operation going on,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
“This is not the moment for media activity.”
RosMedia somehow insistently shows that Russian Defense Minister Shoigu is in place
Today he reported to Putin via video link on the progress of the "special operation" in Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/0hiXpzpaZr
— Anonymous Operations (@AnonOpsSE) March 24, 2022
The Kremlin said Shoigu had informed Putin of the latest developments in Ukraine.
Later Thursday, the Russian defense ministry announced a telephone conversation between Shoigu and his Armenian counterpart Suren Papikian.
The two men “discussed the current situation in the region and the areas where Russian peacekeeping forces in Nagorno-Karabakh are carrying out their tasks,” the ministry said.
The Nagorno-Karabakh region has been feuded over by ex-Soviet states Azerbaijan and Armenia since Armenian separatists seized the territory in a war in the early 1990s.
The defense minister, 66, usually features regularly on state television broadcasts and has been filmed going on expeditions into the Siberian wilderness with Putin.
Russian officials’ absences often prompt rumors of illness, due to the fact that the authorities are reluctant to release such information even if true.
Rumors have swirled on several occasions when Putin has disappeared from public view for a week or more.
“We would be bored if there were no rumors,” he said in 2015 after a 10-day absence.