According to claims and messages circulating on social media on Wednesday, Russia's Ministry of Defense Chief Sergei Shoigu has not been seen in public for 12 days and is thought to be missing.
Investigative journalists from the Russian independent news outlets Mediazona and Agentstvo said on Wednesday that Shoigu, who is known for his media savvy, has not been seen in public since March 11.
According to Russian journalists, there are allegations that Shoigu is in terrible health and has heart difficulties, while other messages circulating online say that Shoigu has been expelled from the ministry and is under house arrest. These claims have yet to be independently verified.
Shoigu was last seen in public on March 11 presenting awards to Russian troops occupying Ukraine during what Russian President Vladimir Putin dubbed a "special military operation" but what the West has condemned as a full-scale invasion of the sovereign nation of Ukraine.
Moscow Times reporter Jake Cordell tweeted on Wednesday about "lots of Telegram chatter today about the whereabouts of Russia’s defense minister Sergei Shoigu," noting that Shoigu has not been seen with Putin since a meeting in Moscow on Feb. 27. During that meeting Putin ordered Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff of Russia's armed forces, to put Russia's nuclear forces on high alert.
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
This comes as Russian soldiers on the ground have halted their bombardment and airstrikes on major population centers in Ukrainian cities after sustaining high fatalities.
Between 7,000 and 15,000 Russian servicemen have been killed in Ukraine, according to NATO.
Meanwhile, Putin is said to be launching a witch hunt within his own inner circle, becoming "incandescent" at suspicions that individuals close to him are leaking information to the West about his military intentions. At least five Russian generals have been killed, according to Ukrainian sources. Russian generals are being pressed to advanced positions on the battlefields, putting them vulnerable to attack, according to Foreign Policy Magazine, as they struggle to get orders to unorganized conscripted troops on the front lines.