Where is Sergei? Russian Defense Minister Not Seen in Nearly Two Weeks: A special Russian version of “Where’s Waldo?” could soon be in the works – this time asking, “Where’s Sergei?” It isn’t exactly a joke, however. Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu, who assumed office in December 2012 and has been described as a close confidant and ally of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, hasn’t been seen in nearly two weeks.
There have been rumors that Shoigu has been in poor health and that he was experiencing heart problems. However, other rumors have been circulating that the defense chief could be facing the wrath of Putin for the setbacks the Russian military has faced in Ukraine and that he is even under house arrest or worse, Fox News reported.
Shoigu has been a prominent figure in the Russian Ministry of Defense and regularly made media appearances up until this point – which makes his absence all the more curious. Shoigu’s last media appearance was on the Russian state news agency RIA on March 11, the same day he was last seen in public.
In a statement from the Kremlin on March 18, Shoigu had attended a meeting Putin called with members of his security council to discuss the progress of the “special military operations” in Ukraine, yet no photos or videos were posted of the meeting. On the same day, Russia’s Channel One aired a story that said Shoigu had presented an award earlier that morning, but the photo used in the report allegedly came from a video posted on the Russian Ministry of Defense website from seven days prior.
It has also been noted that Shoigu has not been seen with Putin since he attended a meeting with the Russian leader and the chief of the general staff Valery Gerasimov in Moscow on February 27, just three days after Russia launched its invasion.
If Putin had Shoigu removed, which is appearing ever more likely, it wouldn’t be the first time a leader in Moscow has reacted to an underling’s failure. Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin was notorious for getting rid of anyone he suspected of failure or disloyalty.
Vladimir Putin has practically seemed to be relying on Stalin’s playbook in recent years, including silencing any opposition from the media, while it is even been believed Putin had ordered the deaths of more than a dozen of his critics. While Putin might not have ordered a “Great Purge” like Stalin, the Russian president could have “removed” Shoigu following Russia’s failures in Ukraine, or simply for fear of dissension in the ranks.
Shoigu wouldn’t be alone.
There have been reports that Putin has fired some general officers and intelligence personnel, while he has made changes to his “ personal staff,” which apparently could include as many as 1,000 people. Everyone from laundresses and secretaries to cooks are being replaced – a sign that Putin’s paranoia could be as great as Stalin’s.
Shoigu’s Family in the Spotlight
Though Minister Shoigu hasn’t been seen, his daughter has been in the spotlight – and perhaps that too could be an issue. The 31-year-old Ksenia Shoigu has been a vocal critic of the war, and has refused to post any Russian propaganda images, symbols, or videos that have been circulated by other Russian elites on social media.
Even worse for the Kremlin is the fact that Ms. Shoigu recently posted photos with her six-month-old daughter while each was wearing the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag on various social media platforms. Despite a Russian ban of Instagram, which is owned by Facebook parent Meta, she has also continued to regularly post to the service.
“I am not ashamed to be Russian,” she said in a post. “I love my motherland and its people, where they live. Today the entire ‘civilised” world showed they have one set of standards for themselves, and a completely different one for us. I will keep working and will keep doing what I can – to help, to support those in need, to love and to take care of my family and relatives.”
Even as she has remained pro-Russia, her anti-war stance likely didn’t do much to actually help her father. And likely not in the eyes of the ever-watching Kremlin.
Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.