Russia’s permanent ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin has died

13:39, 21 february 2017

Photo: Mark Lennihan / AP / Scanpix / LETA

Russia’s permanent representative to the United Nation Vitaly Churkin suddenly died in New York on February 20. He was 64 years old. Churkin was known for his toughness in the face of his Western counterparts. US, UK, and EU officials echoed Russian officials in calling him an outstanding diplomat.

Vitaly Churkin was 64 years old. The ambassador died just one day shy of his 65th birthday. His death was unexpected. According to his deputy, Churkin fell ill at the Russian Consulate in New York. The diplomat was taken to New York Presbyterian Hospital, where he died. According to preliminary data, the cause of death was a heart attack, though there has been no official confirmation of this information.

Churkin served as Russias permanent representative to the United Nations since April 2006, i.e. for over a decade. He began his diplomatic career in the United States, as well. Having graduated from MGIMO in 1974, he worked for eight years in Washington, as the third and then the second and first secretary of the Soviet Embassy. In the early 1990s, Vitaly Churkin, served as deputy foreign minister. In this position, Churkin, for the first time in the Ministry’s history, began to hold regular open briefings for foreign journalists. From 1992 onwards, he had served as Russian ambassador to Chile, Canada, and Belgium, and worked as its permanent representative to NATO.

During his tenure at the United Nations, Churkin was known for taking tough anti-Western stances. In particular, he repeatedly vetoed Security Council resolutions on Syria and Ukraine. Churkin also blocked a draft resolution proposing to establish an international tribunal to investigate the Malaysian airliner that was downed over Ukraine. Churkin often commented on Russia's foreign policy. He is remembered for criticizing the behavior of the US, the UK, and other western countries. For example, in 2016, in response to US ambassador Samantha Power’s accusation that Russia brought about the humanitarian disaster in Aleppo, Churkin said that Power was not Mother Teresa and called the United States a country with a “dubious track record.”

In Russia, Churkin was considered to be an outstanding diplomat. President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, as well as representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the State Duma, and the Federation Council all expressed their condolences in light of Churkin’s death. Kommersant journalist Sergei Strokan described Churkin as “one of the most exciting, charismatic, and lively Russian diplomats, who did not lose a single battle in the UN Security Council.”

The United Nations observed a minute of silence in Churkin’s memory. Among the colleagues who have expressed their condolences were the permanent representatives of the United Kingdom, France, and the USA, as well as the European Union’s ambassador to Russia. US permanent representative Nikki Haley, appointed to the post on 24 January, said that Churkin was an amiable colleague. “We did not always see things the same way, but he unquestionably advocated his country’s positions with great skill,” read Haley’s statement. Her predecessor Samantha Power called Churkin a “diplomatic maestro” and a “deeply caring man” who sought to bring help the United States and Russia overcome their differences.