Russia's UN ambassador passes away

Vitaly Churkin, who served as Russia's UN envoy since 2006, dies at 64 from apparent heart problems.

Nitsan Keidar,

Vitaly Churkin
Vitaly Churkin

Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, died on Monday in New York at the age of 64.

Churkin collapsed while at work at the Russian mission to the United Nations Monday morning and was rushed to a Manhattan hospital, apparently suffering from heart problems, diplomatic sources said, according to AFP.

In a statement, the foreign ministry in Moscow described him as an "outstanding diplomat." There was no information on the cause of death.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin "highly valued the professionalism and diplomatic talent of Vitaly Churkin" and offered condolences, Interfax reported.

News of his death was met with shock at UN headquarters where Churkin, who would have turned 65 on Tuesday, had been a towering presence for a decade.

Diplomats at a routine meeting on General Assembly affairs observed a moment of silence.

Russian Deputy UN Ambassador Petr Iliichev said Churkin was at work "until his last moments."

"His whole life was dedicated to defending the interests of Russia," Iliichev, visibly shaken, said and added, "He was on the frontline."

UN spokesman Farhan Haq, who heard the news during the regular midday briefing, offered his condolences, adding, "We mourn Ambassador Churkin. He has been such a regular presence here that I'm actually quite stunned."

Churkin had served as Russia’s UN ambassador since April 2006, after serving as the country’s envoy to Canada and to Belgium.

During his time as UN envoy, relations between Russia and the West grew increasingly tense, culminating with a major rift over Moscow's support for separatists in east Ukraine and its military intervention in Syria.

During Churkin's tenure, Russia used its veto power six times to block action on Syria, its close ally. The last time was in December, when Moscow vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for a seven-day ceasefire in the embattled city of Aleppo.

Churkin defended his country’s military backing of the Damascus regime's offensive in Aleppo, explaining it was part of the regime’s efforts “to fight the terrorists.”

Churkin had served as foreign ministry spokesman in the early 1990s and also as special envoy to the former Yugoslavia.

He graduated from the Moscow Institute of International Relations and started at the foreign ministry first as a translator before working at the Soviet embassy in Washington in the 1980s.

He is survived by his wife Irina, son Maxim and daughter Anastasiya, who works for the state-owned RT channel.