There would have been little of note in the two-minute video Russia released on Saturday of Sergei Shoigu discussing procurement – had it not been the first confirmed sighting of Russia’s defense minister in two weeks.
The longest-serving minister in the Russian government, Shoigu has been a near-constant presence on television for the past three decades. His absence at a time of war initially sparked rumors of ill health, denied by the Kremlin.
Moscow says the defense minister is simply busy. Shoigu “has a lot on, there’s a special military operation and it’s not really the time for media activity”, Dmitry Peskov, president Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, told reporters on Thursday.
The mystery surrounding the defense minister, one of Russia’s most popular politicians and long a close ally of Putin, has come as the military that has been revamped during his tenure has run into difficulties in Ukraine as the invasion of the country stalls.
Analysts have been struck by the degree to which Russia’s operations have deviated from its usual battlefield strategy. It appears not to have set up a unified command structure under a single officer, making it difficult to co-ordinate everything from air support to logistics.
“This war does not fit the way that the Russian military trains, prepares and is equipped to fight,” said Mark Galeotti, an honorary professor at University College London who studies the country’s armed forces.
“Clearly the initial operation was built on Putin’s bizarre notions about Ukraine that it’s not a real country, not a real people and therefore the whole edifice will just collapse.”
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