In late February, Russia's Vladimir Putin sat at a long table and dressed down his security council minister of the spy agency. Those early days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine were filled with reassurance from Putin's top advisers like Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
A Wall Street Journal report noted that Shoigu was one of the officials who told Putin the war would be an easy one. Putin claimed that Russian troops would be greeted as liberators.
"In his decade at the head of the Russian military, Mr. Shoigu, who has never been a professional soldier but holds the rank of general of the army, has worked to modernize and professionalize the armed forces, and build their image as an effective fighting machine and foreign-policy tool," the report explained.
But after things didn't quite go to plan, Shoigu was noticeably absent. The last time he was seen in public was March 11. Given Putin's proclivity to oust his foes, those following the news of his inner circle questioned if Shoigu was, fired, removed, ill or was even offed.
Ukraine used the speculation to spread health rumors about the defense official. Ukraine's interior minister Anton Gerashchenko posted on Facebook that Shoigu was being blamed for the failure in Ukraine by Putin when he collapsed. There is no verification to confirm or deny the story.
After the speculation, Shoigu suddenly reappeared in a video conference with Putin and other government officials, but that only caused more speculation.
"In the moments before an image of Shoigu appears, his screen is black and the image shakes about for a few seconds - despite all of the other officials appearing clearly on the screen from the beginning of the call," the Daily Mail reported last month. "The clip did not contain audio nor did it show Shoigu speaking."
Tuesday, a series of British tabloids published stories observing Shoigu's persistent absence, but highlighted his daughter's social media messages promoting her dad.
The Star said that Shoigu's younger daughter Ksenia Shoigu posted a heartfelt message saying she was “proud” of him.
"My pride, my guiding star, my dad. Proud to be your daughter," she posted.
It came amid her father's anniversary of service with Putin's military.
“Thirty-one years in the government. Exactly a year ago, we shot a whole film about this long journey, and there were so many interesting stories that did not fit there," she said, marking the day.
Another photo of her holding her baby in a blue onesie was posted while she was wearing a yellow Nike shirt. It led to conspiracy theories that she was sending a secret message of support to Ukraine.
The Globe noticed the same strange social media posts, saying "the message from his daughter, a financial expert and charity worker, came amid mounting uncertainty over Shoigu’s role in the war as his troops are accused of ‘genocide’ and using rape as a weapon of war."
Last week, Shoigu's main battleship was sunk after being bombed twice by Ukraine. Russia tried to downplay the attack, saying that incompetent soldiers set a fire that exploded the ship. Either way, as it was being tugged away like a failed comedian being pulled from a stage, it sank.
The Globe added that the speculation that old footage of Shoigu was being used for the government meetings only adds to speculation that he has been sidelined.