Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, in Moscow, June 21, 2023. ALEYEV YEGOR / TASS / ABACA
Russian Minister of Defense during Vladimir Putin’s two emblematic wars, in Ukraine from 2014, then, the following year, in Syria, the image of Sergei Shoigu, 68, suddenly shattered with the invasion of Russian troops on Ukrainian soil, in February 2022. The accumulated failures in the face of Ukrainian resistance, the abuses committed by its soldiers, the exorbitant cost of the losses designate it as a target on which Evgueni Prigojine, the leader of the Wagner Group, is relentless up to treating it publicly as “bitch”. During the 24-hour armed rebellion of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mercenaries on the territory of Russia on June 24, the head of the Russian forces remained silent and invisible. Supreme humiliation for this faithful of the head of the Kremlin.
Sergei Shoigu is awash in medals like a Soviet general even though he was never a soldier. In 2012, when he took command of the Ministry of Defense, appointed by Vladimir Putin, this engineer by training inherited an army decried and eaten away by corruption, the image of which he would never stop changing. It reintroduces the Soviet uniform of 1945 –“the uniform of the winner” –, innovates by signing itself during parades on Red Square and converts the institution to high technology with the creation of a cyber command.
Listen also to “L’Heure du Monde” in public: Putin, twenty years of blindness in the West
Originally from Tuva, a region on the borders of Siberia close to Mongolia, where he was born in 1955, Sergueï Koujouguétovitch Choïgou quickly abandoned the job of modest civil servant he held there. The end of the USSR is conducive to the ambitious. As soon as he arrived in Moscow, he climbed into the orbit of power of the President of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin, and became Minister for Emergency Situations, a chair he held for more than ten years. At the same time, he leads the Unity party, created from scratch in 1999 by the former oligarch Boris Berezovski, to lead Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin. This mission accomplished, Unity gave way to the ruling party, United Russia, of which Sergei Choïgou would be the first president, from 2001 to 2005.
He is also Vladimir Putin’s spin doctor, his first communications adviser who will organize photo sessions, most of the time in his region, intended to give the image of a virile head of state, a “strong man » riding bare-chested through coniferous forests or swimming the butterfly stroke in the icy waters of the Kemchik River. The proximity between the two men is displayed. Sergueï Choïgou attracts the spotlight but remains in his place, that of a disciple in the service of the “chief”. He hardly ever grants an interview, even when he encroaches on the territory of foreign affairs, traveling to several countries deemed strategic, such as Iran.