The Kremlin has released photographs of Vladimir Putin returning to Russia from a holiday in Siberia. The Russian president is seen wearing a fur hat and on a jet, amid rumors that his defense minister met with two unidentified “national defense experts” at an undisclosed location in Europe. Photos of the meeting have since been leaked to the Russian media, according to CNN.
Who were these ‘national defence experts’? According to the tweet, published on the media outlet Sputnik, the meetings with the defense minister focused on military and technical issues. “During their meeting, the defense minister listened to their presentation, then discussed it with their boss and later spoke more to them.”
The meeting comes after a difficult November for the defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, who reportedly sought meetings with allies of Putin in order to discuss the ongoing war in Syria. Sources also told the pro-Kremlin publication Kommersant that Shoigu has been receiving abuse from President Putin for remaining abroad for his ministry.
A Kremlin spokesman did not respond to CNN’s request for comment on the nature of the meetings that took place. This is not the first time that the Russian president has come under pressure to cut down on his hunting trips. In February, Putin went on a hunt with former Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Kirill, meeting in a Russian forest with six men who allegedly did not have hunting licenses.
The photos of Putin on his hunting break and the leaked images of the meeting with Shoigu follow closely behind a leak of Putin’s phone call to the U.S. President Donald Trump, which took place in October. According to the tapes of the call, Trump and Putin reportedly discussed the lifting of economic sanctions against Russia.
“Today, President Putin has offered to provide guarantees for the lifting of the U.S. sanctions that have hit Russian exporters and workers,” said Putin, who noted that a meeting in Helsinki with Trump would be an opportunity to reach an agreement.
On Twitter, some users were quick to criticize the motivations of the Kremlin for the releases of the photos and the photos of the meeting. “Putin is Russia’s top cop (…) colluding with a powerful global crime syndicate to undermine Russia’s statehood,” wrote journalist Laura Blank on Twitter.
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