MOSCOW – Reuters
Russia’s combative ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, died suddenly in New York on Feb. 20 after being taken ill at work, the Russian
Foreign Ministry said.
The ministry gave no details on the circumstances of his death but offered condolences to his relatives and said the diplomat had died one day before his 65th birthday.
It declined to comment on reports that Churkin had been taken to a hospital shortly before his death.
A U.S. government official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the case, said that Churkin had died of an apparent heart attack.
A federal law enforcement official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said that there appeared to be nothing unusual about the ambassador’s death.
The New York Post quoted unnamed sources as saying Churkin had been rushed to a Manhattan hospital from the Russian
embassy after falling ill with a cardiac condition.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was deeply upset by the news and had greatly valued Churkin’s professionalism and diplomatic talent, Russian
news agencies quoted the Kremlin as saying.
Tass news agency quoted Churkin’s deputy, Pyotr Ilyichev, as saying: “The loss sustained by Russia
is grave and irreplaceable.
“Ambassador Churkin remained at his work post until the last minute. He devoted his whole life to defending the interests of Russia
and was to be found on the very front lines and in the most stressful posts.”
Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general’s office, on Feb. 20 said: “He has been such a regular presence here that I am actually quite stunned. Our thoughts go to his family, to his friends and to his government.”
Shortly after news of the ambassador’s death broke, a moment of silence was held at an informal session of the U.N. General Assembly. Later, the General Assembly’s president, Fiji Ambassador to the United Nations Peter Thomson, offered the world body’s “heartfelt condolences” and praised the late ambassador’s “stern resolution” before leading another silent tribute.
Churkin was a defender of Russian
policy, notably its intensive bombing of the Syrian city of Aleppo last year to crush rebels opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
When then-U.S. envoy to the United Nations, Samantha Power, accused Syria, Russia
last year of bearing responsibility for atrocities there, Churkin said she was forgetting the United States’ own track record in the Middle East.
“The weirdest speech to me was the one by the U.S. representative who built her statement as if she is Mother Teresa herself. Please, remember which country you represent. Please, remember the track record of your country,” he said.
His occasional foe, former U.S. ambassador Power, described Churkin as a “diplomatic maestro and deeply caring man who did all he could to bridge US-RUS differences.”