Vladimir Putin is getting into deeper crisis, with reports coming in that Russia's defense minister Sergei Shoigu has vanished from view citing "heart problems." According to reports, Shoigu hasn't been seen for the past 12 days and no one knows about his whereabouts, while opposition media has claimed that old footage and pictures are being shown of him on TV.
It comes after it was revealed that Putin had begun a witch hunt within his closest circle and was becoming wary of his close aides after the United States and the United Kingdom were given leaks of his military intentions.
Shoigu, according to opposition media, is missing for the past 12 days citing heart problems but the actual reason may be different. It is believed that his relationship with Putin has strained since the invasion of Ukraine has gone wrong, dealing heavy losses to the Russian forces.
Shoigu is in charge of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which has resulted in the deaths of nearly 10,000 Russian troops as well as untold civilian casualties. This comes amid reports that Putin has started a witch hunt among his close aides after leaked information revealed the actual number of deaths of Russian soldiers.
Shoigu was one of those who sparked suspicion. In the last week, he has made fewer public appearances, while his younger daughter Ksenia, 31, was photographed wearing Ukrainian blue and yellow.
Suspicions about Shoigu's safety surfaced when a Kremlin report on March 18 stated that Shoigu and Putin had discussed "the progress of the special operation in Ukraine" with permanent members of the security council. However, there was no footage or photographs of this.
A part of Shoigu presenting awards was televised on Channel One the same day, however it used an image that was first released on March 11. This further raised suspicion on his sudden disappearance.
Where is Shoigu?
Nobody knows where Shoigu is right now. Despite being a long-time friend of Putin, Shoigu's views on the invasion have been questioned in the past. His body language at a conversation with Putin in February drew attention because it showed he was uncomfortable with the president's speech and behavior.
It was clear that strains have appeared over the conduct of the war with Shoigu and other leading army and security chiefs. The Russian president is on the lookout for 'guilty guys' behind his stalled invasion of Ukraine, and he is believed to be 'incandescent' at the prospect that the US and UK are aware of Moscow's military plans.
According to sources, leaks from London and Washington to Kyiv have been blamed for Russia's top generals and elite forces being targeted so effectively in Ukraine. According to sources, Putin has been dismissive of long-time buddy Alexander Bortnikov, the head of the FSB security service, in private and has started snapping at Valery Gerasimov, the Russian general staff chief, in meetings.
Bortnikov has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Putin in the event of a coup. With reports that Shoigu has been the target of Putin's suspicions, it's unclear whether the defense minister has been the victim of a witch-hunt.