Putin spends time in the Siberian taiga forest with Sergei Shoigu
For 12 days in March, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu vanished from public life. Russia had only just given its military the go-ahead to invade Ukraine, with troops fighting and dying across the border. But amid all of this, Shoigu, one of President Vladimir Putin‘s closest aides, was nowhere to be seen.
Many claimed he had been ‘disappeared’ for a botched invasion; others suggested he had been taken ill; still more claimed that he had resigned.
Soon, in what amounted to a press release, the Defence military posted an official video of Shoigu at a meeting on military procurement, and so the mystery was put to bed.
An odd saga, it was the first time many had heard of Shoigu. So, who is he? In its new ‘Siloviki Series’, Express.co.uk explores the individuals within Putin’s inner circle, looking at their histories and how they got to where they are.
Shoigu was born on May 21, 1955, in Chadan, a town in the remote and poverty-stricken republic of Tuva, deep in the southern heartlands of Siberia.
Sergei Shoigu: He was born in the remote Tuva Republic and has become a crucial ally of Putin
Vladimir Putin: The pair pictured at the VD parade earlier this year
His father, Kuzhuget Shoigu, was for a time editor of the Pravda newspaper, while his Ukrainian-born mother, Alexandra Yakovlevna Shoigu, was a member of the Tuva Regional Council of People’s Deputies.
Kuzhuget quickly rose through the ranks of the Soviet system and became secretary of the Tuvan Regional Committee of the Communist Party, going on to become a central figure in the political structure of the Tuvan republic.
Shoigu was as a result well-placed when he entered the world, gaining a degree in engineering from the Krasnoyarsk Polytechnic Institute in 1977.
Unlike most other members of the Siloviki, Shoigu’s background is not in politics or the Soviet Union’s KGB security agency.
After graduating, he spent a decade working on construction projects across Russia, making his way up the bureaucratic ladder to become the Head of the Abakanvagonstroy railway car manufacturing facility from 1986 to 1988.
Clearly adept at functioning within organisational structures, in 1988, Shoigu entered politics after he was made Second secretary of the Abakan City Communist Party Committee, the capital of the Republic of Khakassia.
This would prove to be the beginning of a long and illustrious political career, Shoigu moving through four jobs in just six years before becoming a minister within the Kremlin.
Tuva: The remote and impoverished republic is located deep into Siberia’s southern territory
In 1994, he was made Minister of Civil Defence, Emergencies and Disaster Relief, a post which he would keep until 2012.
He held a string of other roles in this time too, including Deputy Prime Minister, leader of the Unity party — widely seen as a precursor to United Russia — as well as leader of United Russia, the party of which Putin is considered de facto leader.
It was during his time as leader of Unity that Shoigu grew close to Putin, as the party acted as an outlet for the rise of the later Russian President to acquire a political circle and gain trust among future Kremlin leaders.
He went on to work with Putin for 20 years, the two acquiring not only a professional but personal relationship, becoming close friends and going on regular hunting trips.
Experts suggest that Shoigu was rewarded for his loyalty and friendship in 2012, when Putin, at the beginning of his second presidential term, made him Governor of Moscow Oblast — a sought-after title.
His dedication to a Russia fuelled by nationalism paid off yet again later that year when he was made Minister of Defence of the Russian Federation, which placed him directly in charge of Russia’s armed forces.
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Ben Wallace: Shoigu and UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace earlier this year
History: The pair have a close friendship spanning more than 20 years, pictured here in 1999
Shoigu is the man who would have overseen Russia’s momentous build-up of troops along Ukraine’s border in the year up to February 24.
It was his order that ended the sudden massing of troops last year, something which concerned leaders in Europe but appeared to be quickly forgotten.
With the freedom to make such decisions, Evgeny Minchenko, a political analyst who created a power-ranking system of Russian politicians, said earlier this year: “Right now, there’s only one member from the cabinet who is in the ‘politburo 2.0’. And that’s Shoigu.”
Shoigu has long been on the radar of the international community for potentially having committed foul play.
Russian elections: Shoigu’s face seen on a pre-election billboard in 2003
In 2014, Ukraine opened a criminal case against him after accusing him of helping to establish “illegal military groups” in the east of the country where vicious fighting has been happening since.
Ukrainian authorities alleged that Shoigu coordinated almost all of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk’s military actions, and supplied Donetsk Supreme Commander Igor Girkin — who was instrumental in Russia’s annexation of Crimea — and “other terrorist leaders” with “the most destructive weapons”.
Shoigu appeared to confirm the accusations when in 2016, according to Reuters, he said that he had “deployed more air defense systems in the southwest [of Russia]” and “also deployed a ‘self-sufficient’ contingent of troops in Crimea… Since 2013 … we have formed four divisions, nine brigades and 22 regiments.
Foul play: Ukraine accuses Shoigu of foul play in the country’s eastern regions, including Donetsk
“They include two missile brigades armed with Iskander missile complexes, which has allowed them to boost fire power to destroy the potential adversary.”
Just like other members of Putin’s inner circle, little is known about Shoigu’s contemporary personal life.
However, he is known to be married to Irina Alexandrovna Shoigu, the president of the business tourism company, Expo-EM, and has two daughters, Yulia, born in 1977, and Kesnia, born in 1991.