The Kremlin said Thursday that Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was too busy for public appearances, as his absence from view for nearly two weeks prompted questions from journalists.
Shoigu, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, reportedly last appeared in public on March 11 despite his leading role in Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.
Some Russian media reports have speculated that he could have health problems.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov sought to quell such rumours however, telling journalists: “The defence minister has a lot to take care of at the moment. There is a special military operation going on.
“This is not the moment for media activity,” he added.
The Kremlin said Thursday that Shoigu had informed Putin of the latest developments in Ukraine.
Later Thursday, the Russian defence ministry announced a telephone conversation between Shoigu and his Armenian counterpart Suren Papikian.
The two men “discussed the current situation in the region and the areas where Russian peacekeeping forces in Nagorno-Karabakh are carrying out their tasks”, the ministry said.
The Nagorno-Karabakh region has been feuded over by ex-Soviet states Azerbaijan and Armenia since Armenian separatists seized the territory in a war in the early 1990s.
The defence minister, 66, usually features regularly on state television broadcasts and has been filmed going on expeditions into the Siberian wilderness with Putin.
Russian officials’ absences often prompt rumours of illness, due to the fact that the authorities are reluctant to release such information even if true.
Rumours have swirled on several occasions when Putin has disappeared from public view for a week or more.
“We would be bored if there were no rumours,” he said in 2015 after a 10-day absence.