May 6, 2016 / 3:09 PM / 3 years ago

'Russian Rambo', hero of Kremlin's Syria campaign, buried with pomp

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A special forces officer killed in Syria, nicknamed the Russian Rambo by state media, was buried on Friday in a blaze of publicity and pomp, with the Kremlin allowing blanket TV coverage as an exception for 25-year-old Alexander Prokhorenko.

Honour guards surround a coffin with the body of Russian serviceman Alexander Prokhorenko transported from Syria during a mourning ceremony at Chkalovsky military airport outside Moscow, Russia, in this handout photo provided by Russian Ministry of Defence on May 5, 2016. Vadim Savitsky/Russian Ministry of Defence Press Service/Handout via Reuters

The senior lieutenant - whose media nickname refers to John Rambo, a fictional Vietnam veteran - had called in a strike on himself in March near Palmyra after being encircled by Islamist fighters, his commanders say.

Russia has been keen to stress its role in helping the army in Syria retake the ancient Syrian city by providing air strikes guided by special forces troops like Prokhorenko but has at times been reluctant to admit its military losses there.

It staged a concert in the city’s Roman amphitheatre on Thursday evening to underscore its involvement.

A school and a street are due to be named in Prokhorenko’s honor and President Vladimir Putin posthumously gave him the Hero of Russia award, the country’s highest military medal for his “courage and heroism”.

It took weeks to retrieve and identify Prokhorenko’s body, and he was buried in his home village of Gorodki, about 1,200 km (750 miles) east of Moscow.

“Kurdish militia squads took part in getting Alexander Prokhorenko’s body out,” a representative of the Syrian Kurds in Russia, Farkhad Patiev, told state TV at the funeral.

“What he did was a great heroic deed. We need to always remember this.”

State TV showed a black coffin draped in a Russian flag with an officer’s cap perched on top being carried by eight soldiers in full uniform with a guard of honor of five more servicemen.

Army generals and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu had paid their respects on Thursday, meeting Prokhorenko’s parents at a Moscow airport before their son’s body was flown to Gorodki.

Prokhorenko, one of eight Russian soldiers whose death in Syria has been publicly admitted by the Russian government, served in the Special Operations Forces, a military unit extensively trained for clandestine missions abroad.

Russia denies it has boots on the ground in Syria. It says Prokhorenko was directing Russian air strikes against Islamic State forces. Another officer from the unit, Fyodor Zhuravlyov, was killed in Syria in late November but his death was kept secret for four months.

“He made the only right decision - a strike on himself,” a villager watching the funeral procession told reporters.

Editing by Louise Ireland

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