Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu Resurfaces After Two-Week Disappearance

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu Resurfaces After Two-Week Disappearance

Russia's top defense official had not been seen publicly since early March before appearing in a meeting on Saturday.

Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu held a meeting with other Russian officials on Saturday. It was his first public engagement in weeks. His lack of visibility to the meeting had prompted intense speculation about his whereabouts.

Russia’s state-run TASS news agency reported on Saturday that Shoigu met with officials in Russia’s treasury department to discuss the provision of advanced weapons, including “robotic complexes” and “electronic warfare equipment,” for use in Ukraine. The officials also discussed the impact of Western sanctions on Russia’s government budget, affecting its ability to pay its contractors.

“With the challenges we are facing today, we are moving according to plan in implementing the state defense procurement contract,” Shoigu said, according to TASS.

The defense minister referenced the fact that the Kremlin’s funding of the military had increased by 15 percent in 2022 in spite of sanctions against the Russian economy. He also claimed that the Russian economy had been able to execute around 85 percent of government contracts.

Shoigu’s uncharacteristic disappearance in early March led to rumors about his position, with some suggesting that he had been sacked for Russia’s lackluster performance in its war against Ukraine. Others speculated that he had attempted to flee the country. Agentstvo, an independent Russian media outlet, had claimed that Shoigu’s disappearance was related to health issues, although it did not elaborate.

The Kremlin evaded questions regarding Shoigu’s whereabouts while he was not seen publicly. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed that the defense minister had “a lot on his plate,” tying his lack of public appearances to a full schedule in organizing Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“Naturally, now is not exactly the time for media activity,” Peskov said. “This is quite understandable.”

He dismissed the Agentstvo report, saying that reporters “shouldn’t listen” to it and directing them instead to Russia’s defense ministry.

While Russian state-run news outlets have broadcast several meetings featuring Shoigu throughout March, Russian and Western observers speculated that these appearances had either been doctored or were broadcasts that had taken place prior to Shoigu’s disappearance.

Shoigu’s disappearance came as other high-profile Russians have quit or been fired from their jobs over the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Anatoly Chubais, a longtime Kremlin insider and former finance minister under Putin’s predecessor, resigned his position as Russian climate envoy over the Kremlin’s handling of the war. Other officials in Russia’s security community have reportedly lost their jobs because of intelligence failures during the war.

Peskov dismissed the significance of Chubais’ resignation, claiming that he had worked for the Kremlin on a voluntary basis.

Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for The National Interest.

Image: Reuters.