Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu allegedly visited the command posts of the Russian military in the occupied territories of Ukraine on June 26, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.
The ministry reported that the purpose of the trip was to inspect Russian troop groupings involved in the war in Ukraine.
It is unclear from the Russian Defense Ministry whether Shoigu visited Ukraine or inspected military units in Russia, but Russian propaganda outlets claim that the minister conducted an inspection in the occupied territories of Donbas.
A video published by the Russian Defense Ministry shows Shoigu and his delegation getting out of a helicopter, then holding a meeting, after which Shoigu awarded some invading troops with medals.
At the command posts, Shoigu allegedly heard reports from commanders on the current situation and actions of the Russian Armed Forces in the key operational areas.
Shoigu also presented the Russian occupiers with awards — Gold Star medals and the Order of Courage for "heroism and dedication in combat missions."
"I assure you, you still have many glorious deeds ahead for the benefit of our homeland, the Armed Forces, the Air Forces,” said the Russian defense minister.
“Congratulations. Take care of yourself.”
Russian Colonel-General Gennady Zhidko features in a photo with Shoigu, which confirms the reports of investigators from CIT, an open-source intelligence group, that he is the commander of Russian troops in Ukraine.
Chief of the Main Operations Department of the General Staff of Russia, Sergei Rudskoy and the Deputy Minister of Defense Yunus-bek Yevkurov, can both be seen on the video published by the Ministry of Defense next to Shoigu.
At the same time, the video did not show Colonel-General Aleksandr Lapin or Army General Sergei Surovikin, commanders of the central and southern groupings of the invading army.
According to UK intelligence, the commander of the Southern Military District, General Alexander Dvornikov, has been fired, and now the command of the Southern Military District is likely to pass to Colonel-General Sergei Surovikin. He is directly responsible for the combat zone in Donetsk Oblast.
Surovikin has been the Commander of the Russian Air and Space Forces since 2017.
Shoigu's trip took place amid the advance of Russian troops in the Luhansk Oblast and the occupation of some settlements on that territory.
On the morning of June 24, it was reported that Ukrainian units were engaged in an orderly withdrawal from the Severodonetsk industrial zone. Ukrainian defenders retreated to more fortified positions. On June 25, the head of the city's military-civil administration, Oleksandr Stryuk, said that the Russian military had completely occupied Severodonetsk.
The first attempt to storm the city dates back to March 2, but the Russian assault was pushed back at the time. The offensive resumed in late April. Russian troops regularly fired on Severodonetsk, destroying, according to regional authorities, 90% of the city.
The Russian Defense Ministry also earlier announced the establishment of full control over Severodonetsk.