Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, died very suddenly in New York on Monday, just one day short of his 65th birthday.
CNN cites law enforcement officials who say Churkin suffered cardiac arrest at the Russian mission and was taken to Presbyterian Hospital, where he died.
An anonymous federal law enforcement official told Reuters, “there appeared to be nothing unusual about the ambassador’s death.”
“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,” said his deputy, Pyotr Ilyichev.
The U.N. General Assembly held a moment of silence for Churkin on Monday. Various ambassadors from other nations praised him, including current U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley. “In my short time at the United Nations, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin 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,” Haley said in a statement.
Haley’s predecessor Samantha Power expressed her grief on Twitter:
Devastated by passing of Russian UN Amb Vitaly Churkin.Diplomatic maestro &deeply caring man who did all he cld to bridge US-RUS differences
— Samantha Power (@SamanthaJPower) February 20, 2017
As Reuters recalls, Power was a harsh critic of Russia’s actions in Syria during her final months in office. Churkin hit back with acid sarcasm, once accusing Power of believing she was “Mother Teresa herself” and admonishing her to “remember the track record of your country.”
One of the most common adjectives associated with Churkin was “combative.”
Radio Free Europe (RFE) recalls:
A cagey and often combative official who was respected even by opponents who despised his government’s policies, Churkin was a career diplomat who was deployed to defend the Kremlin’s line on a range of geopolitical standoffs over three decades, including the Soviet Union’s handling of the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear accident and Moscow’s two wars in Chechnya.
RFE notes that Churkin’s tenure at the United Nations “coincided with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s increasingly assertive foreign policy,” including Putin’s big push to characterize the United States as a “destabilizing force” that threatened “global security.” Churkin was Putin’s man at the United Nations when international condemnation rained down over Russia’s conflict with Georgia, invasion of Crimea, and intervention in the Syrian civil war.
“Mr. Churkin, who was born in Moscow, dabbled in acting as a young teenager – appearing in two films about Vladimir Lenin – before attending the prestigious Moscow Institute of International Relations, eventually beginning a career in Russia’s foreign ministry,” the BBC writes of his early life. “Before taking up the position with the UN, he served as an envoy to Canada, Belgium and as a special representative to the talks on former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.”