The head of Russia's Ministry of Defense Sergei Shoigu has not been seen in public for 12 days and is possibly missing, according to reports and messages circulated on Telegram on Wednesday.
Investigative journalists from the Russian independent news outlets Mediazona and Agentstvo claimed on Wednesday that the normally media savvy Shoigu has not appeared in public since March 11.
There are rumors that Shoigu is in poor health and is experiencing heart problems, while other messages are swirling online suggest Shoigu might have been fired from the ministry and is on house arrest, according to Russian journalists. Fox News has not yet independently verified these allegations.
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.
The Kremlin said in a statement on its website on March 18 that Shoigu was present during a meeting Putin called with members of his security council to discuss "the progress of the special operation in Ukraine," but no photos or videos of the meeting were posted online.
The Russian state-run Channel 1 aired a broadcast that same day, March 18, about Shoigu presenting military awards "today" but used an image of the ceremony that had already been posted on the Ministry of Defense’s website seven days earlier on March 11, according to Agentstvo.
Russian journalist Dmitry Treschanin, of Mediazona, noted that Russian state-run news agency RIA also hasn’t reported about Shoigu since March 11. He questioned whether Shoigu was in Chernobaevka, located outside of Kherson, the first major city to be occupied by Russian forces on March 2.
"Listen, the great PR minister Shoigu has been out of public space since March 11th," Treschanin tweeted on Wednesday. "ELEVEN DAYS OF WAR, we do not have the head of the Ministry of Defense."
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, just three days after beginning the invasion of Ukraine. It was at that meeting when Putin ordered Shoigu and the chief of the general staff of the armed forces of Russia, Valery Gerasimov, to put Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert.
Russian newspaper Pravda, citing the Russian investigative outlets, reported that Gerasimov also hasn’t made any public appearances since March 11. According to Agenstvo, Shoigu has made media appearances a priority since becoming Minister of Defense in 2012 and had appeared on television nearly every day since the start of the invasion of Ukraine up until March 11.
This comes as Russian forces on the ground have stalled after suffering heavy casualties, while continuing their bombardment and air strikes targeting major population centers in Ukrainian cities.
NATO said Wednesday that between 7,000 and 15,000 Russian troops have been killed in Ukraine.
Putin, meanwhile, has reportedly been conducting a witch hunt within his own inner circle, growing "incandescent" over the belief that those close to him are leaking information about his military plans to the West. Ukrainian officials have so far claimed to have killed at least five Russian generals. Foreign Policy Magazine reported that Russian generals are being forced to advanced positions on the battlefields, leaving them exposed to attack, as they struggle to get orders to disorganized conscripted troops on the front lines.