Russian government official Anatoly Chubais has stepped down and has left the country, becoming the first high-ranking official to quit he Kremlin since the invasion of Ukraine.
Mr Chubais, who was President Vladimir Putin’s special representative for ties with international organisations, has left Russia and has no plan to return, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.
As one of the most influential people in former President Boris Yeltsin’s administration, the 66-year-old oversaw privatisation in Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
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He is the first senior government official to break lines with the Kremlin after Mr Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine on the pretext that it needed to be “demilitarised” and “de-Nazified”. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a Jew who lost relatives in the Holocaust, has repeatedly denied accusations of being linked to the far right.
It comes amid reports of Russia’s defence minister, Sergey Shoigu – who is seen as one of Mr Putin’s closest allies – disappearing with “heart problems”, the MailOnline reports.
According to the news outlet, Mr Shoigu has been missing from public view for 12 days as Mr Putin is said to be carrying out a witch hunt of his closest allies to prevent information about Moscow’s military strategy from being leaked to the West.
Russian-owned broadcaster Channel One on 18 March announced news of Mr Shoigu handing out awards, but used pictures of the defence minister which dated back to 11 March.
On the same day, a report on the Kremlin’s website reported he and Mr Putin had discussed “the progress of the special operation” in Ukraine with permanent members of the security council but there were no pictures or videos from the reported event.
According to investigative news outlet Agentstvo, a source close to the minister said he had interrupted his otherwise frequent public appearances due to heart problems.
News of his reported disappearance comes a day after Mr Shoigu’s 31-year-old daughter appeared on social media with her six-month-old baby dressed in Ukraine’s colours, namely blue and yellow.
But Ksenia Shoigu has not made any comment about the invasion of Russia’s former Soviet neighbour, and it is unclear if her post was an attempt to make a statement or a simple coincidence.
Russia launched its land, air and sea invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, just days after it recognised the self-declared republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in the pro-Russian separatist region of Donbass as independent.
Russia has been accused by Ukraine and the West of war crimes amid claims it is targeting civilians rather than just military objects.
In Mariupol, hundreds of thousands of residents remain trapped without water, food and power as Russia’s siege of the Black Sea city, which has been ongoing for almost four weeks, continues.
Russia is alleged to have targeted a maternity hospital in Mariupol, killing four people including a six-year-old girl, while it is also accused of targeting a theatre which was said to be sheltering up to 1,300 civilians. The theatre was struck despite the Russian word for ‘CHILDREN’ printed outside to alert military aircrafts to the civilian site. Russia has denied targeting civilians and has accused Ukraine of using its own people as shields.
Up to 10 million people have fled Ukraine since the war started, with more than 3.5million Ukrainians fleeing to neighbouring countries, including Poland, Hungary, Romania, Moldova and Slovakia.