Distraught Putin weeps over coffin of close pal who died 'trying to save a man's life in Arctic drill'

DISTRAUGHT Vladimir Putin has wept over the coffin of a close pal who died "trying to save a man's life in an Arctic drill".

A grief-stricken Putin appeared devastated as he said farewell today to the open coffin of his emergencies' minister – and former personal bodyguard – who died on Tuesday ‘trying to save a man”.

The Russian leader twice rested his head on the coffin of Yevgeny Zinichev, 55, which was draped in the country’s tricolour flag. 

Putin then sat with the minister's widow Natalya and son Denis at the funeral ceremony. 

He twice approached the open coffin, bowing his head, and as he walked away appeared distraught. 

Putin has spoken of his  “irreplaceable personal loss” in losing Zinichev – a former FSB deputy director – who he called a man of “incredible inner strength, courage and bravery”.

He had awarded Zinichev a posthumous Hero of Russia award, the country’s highest honour. 

Some believe Putin was grooming Zinichev – like him one a KGB operative – as his eventual successor. 

He had enjoyed a spectacular rise under Putin and had been tipped recently for a new powerful role on the Kremlin’s security council. 

Details have been sketchy but Zinichev is believed to have died at or near the 90ft Kitabo-Oron waterfall at Putorana Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Arctic, during a military exercise.

The official account says he sought to save documentary-maker-cameraman Alexander Melnik, 63, who had slipped as they stood on an icy rock.

In the event, both men died. 

"While rescuing a life, he took risk without a second of doubt, and died while fulfilling his duty,” said Putin.

Official accounts have not confirmed the exact location of the tragedy. 

The inter-agency exercise was taking place in northern Siberia and involved 6,000 specialists who cover various crisis situations.

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