Senior Russian Minister Dies During Drill

The government said Yevgeny Zinichev, a longtime Putin aide responsible for emergency situations, dived off a cliff to save a film director who fell into the water.


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MOSCOW — A senior government official died on Wednesday when he dived off a cliff trying to save a prominent film director who had fallen into the water during a drill in Russia’s Far North, officials confirmed.

Yevgeny N. Zinichev, the minister of emergency situations, “was tragically killed while on duty, while taking part in interagency exercises designed to protect the Arctic zone from emergencies, as he tried to save a person’s life,” a statement from his ministry said.

Mr. Zinichev, who was visiting the city of Norilsk as part of a multicity drill involving 6,000 people, dived into the water after Aleksandr Melnik, the director, slipped and fell off a wet rock, the ministry’s press service told local reporters. The Russian-state news agency, TASS, reported that Mr. Melnik, who was scouting locations for a documentary, also died.

“He did not hesitate for a second, not as a minister, but as a rescuer, having committed a heroic act,” Russia’s deputy emergency minister Andrei Gurovich said of Mr. Zinichev to the Russia 24 TV channel.

“He lived like that all his life.”

As minister of emergencies, Mr. Zinichev was responsible for managing the country’s response to natural and man-made disasters, including the forest fires raging in Siberia.

The position is considered influential in Russia. Its previous holder, Sergey K. Shoigu, a confidant of President Vladimir V. Putin, oversaw the ministry for two decades before becoming defense minister in 2012.

Mr. Zinichev, who was 55, began working for the Russian security services in 1987 and became a member of Mr. Putin’s security detail in 2006.

In 2014, he became deputy head of the counterterrorism service of Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, known as the F.S.B. From 2016-2018 he was its deputy head. He was appointed emergency minister in May 2018, and also served on Russia’s Security Council.

Mr. Zinichev’s is the first death of a sitting minister in Russia, according to the BBC. Mr. Putin expressed his condolences from the Siberian taiga, where he was spending a few days with Mr. Shoigu, according to his spokesman Dmitri Peskov.

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