Russia UN envoy, 64, dies
Former president Dmitry Medvedev presents state decorations to Vitaly Churkin. Source: Kremlin
Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, has died while at work in New York City aged 64.
He was taken to a Manhattan hospital, apparently suffering from heart problems, AFP reported.
“The outstanding Russian diplomat died in harness,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry tweeted.
Churkin was a career diplomat born in Moscow who studied English from a young age. He had been UN ambassador since April 2006, after serving as ambassador to Canada and Belgium.
In his final months, Churkin clashed repeatedly with previous ambassador Samantha Power over the killing in Syria’s second city of Aleppo, firmly defending the Kremlin’s view that Damascus was fighting against “terrorists”.
Russia resorted to its veto six times to block action on Syria.
Power raised the Aleppo atrocities and asked him: “Are you truly incapable of shame?” He replied that she was acting “as if she is Mother Teresa herself”.
Power tweeted that she was “devastated” and called Churkin a “diplomatic maestro” who did all he could to bridge divides between the two powers.
Churkin’s death comes around three months after another Russian died in the country’s diplomatic quarters in New York. Sergei Krivov was found dead on the US election day, lying on the floor of the Russian Consulate on the Upper East Side. BuzzFeed investigated but concluded the death was still shrouded in mystery.
Relations between the US and Russia have deteriorated in recent years, and diplomats have been watching whether the dynamics will change under Donald Trump with the appointment of South Carolina governor Nikki Haley as UN ambassador.
Haley said Churkin had “showed himself to be a gracious colleague”.
“We did not always see things the same way, but he unquestionably advocated his country’s positions with great skill,” a Haley statement said.
Francois Delattre, France’s UN envoy, said he was “one of the most talented diplomats” and “an exceptional representative of Russia”.
Matthew Rycroft, the UK’s UN ambassador, tweeted that he was “absolutely devastated”, describing Churkin as “a diplomatic giant and wonderful character”.
Churkin had been unusually absent during several recent Security Council meetings, but this month he dismissed media questions about his health.