(Reuters) -Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has paid a rare visit to Russia's forces deployed in Ukraine, awarding medals to military personnel and meeting senior commanders during the trip, a statement and videos issued by his ministry showed on Saturday.
Russia's top military chiefs have visited front lines in Ukraine only sparingly since Moscow sent tens of thousands of Russian troops into the neighbouring country just over a year ago in what it calls a "special military operation".
Shoigu "inspected the forward command post of one of the formations of the Eastern Military District in the South Donetsk direction" during the visit, the Defence Ministry said in a statement published on messaging app Telegram.
In a video released by the ministry, Shoigu is seen awarding medals to Russian military personnel and touring a ruined town together with the district's commander, Colonel-General Rustam Muradov.
In a second video, published by the ministry later on Saturday, he is seen chairing a meeting with senior commanders, including Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov and General Sergei Surovikin, one of Gerasimov's deputies in the Ukraine campaign.
Shoigu, who has served as defence minister since 2012, has come under harsh criticism over his performance in the conflict from pro-war advocates.
Last month, Wagner Group mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, whose force has played a significant role in Russia's war effort in Ukraine, accused Shoigu and others of "treason" for withholding supplies of munitions to his militia.
(Reporting by ReutersEditing by William Mallard, Mark Heinrich and Helen Popper)