Since President Putin ordered tanks into Ukraine last year, Sergei Shoigu, his long-serving defense minister, has been the victim of the Russian military's failures.
Mark Bennetz, a reporter for Britain's The Times, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was asked last night if there were personnel changes in the Defense Ministry after negotiations that led to an agreement to end the Wagner rebellion.
Peskov replied: "These matters are the prerogative of the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, President Vladimir Putin, in accordance with the Constitution of the Russian Federation. Therefore, it is unlikely that these topics will be discussed in the context of the above-mentioned communications."
Bennetz noted that Shoigu's biggest critic is Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner Group, who in a series of harsh comments in recent months has called Shoigu and Valery Gerasimov, chief of the General Staff, "scum" who "will burn in hell." Yesterday, Prigozhin requested the extradition of Shoigu and Gerasimov to Wagner.
Shoigu's whereabouts are unknown, but there were rumors last night that he had been fired.
Shoigu, 68, was described by the report as hugely popular as Russia's emergency services minister for more than two decades. Unlike many of Putin's inner circles, he is not a former member of the KGB and has never served in the armed forces, yet he has been involved in humanitarian missions in the former Soviet Union, Afghanistan and the Balkans; "his fall was dramatic."
Personal relationship with Putin
Shoigu, a collector of rare oriental swords, Aztec daggers with religious symbolism, and a skilled hockey player on the team where the Russian leader plays, was also popular, a native of Tuva in southern Siberia, and often went with Putin on vacations in the region.
Relations between the two (Putin and Shoigu) have become more cold: at a recent event in Moscow, the Russian leader barely looked at Shoigu, turning his back on him while the defense minister was confused and uncomfortable.
The crisis of his son-in-law
Shoigu has come under fire from hardliners, including Prigozhin, for allowing his son-in-law Alexei Stolyarov, a 33-year-old fitness blogger married to Shoigu's daughter Ksenia, to avoid conscription.
Prigozhin criticized Stolyarov and his wife for vacationing in Dubai, saying, "How can Shoigu's son-in-law go to the UAE and shake his ass?" , and the head of Wagner recommended that what he described as the "elite" in the Russian Federation gather its young people and send them to war.