Russia's ambassador to United Nations dies

2017-02-21 12:16
Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin. (File, AP)

Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin. (File, AP)

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New York - Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, a veteran diplomat known as a potent, savvy yet personable voice for his country's interests who could both spar and get along with his Western counterparts, died suddenly Monday after falling ill in his office at Russia's UN mission.

Vitaly Churkin was taken to a hospital, where he died a day before his 65th birthday, said Russia's deputy UN ambassador, Vladimir Safronkov. The cause of his death was unknown.

As Russia's envoy at the United Nations since 2006 and a diplomat for decades, Churkin was considered Moscow's great champion at the UN, where he was the longest-serving ambassador on the powerful Security Council.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Churkin "an outstanding diplomat."

"Ambassador Churkin served the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation with distinction through some of the most challenging and momentous periods of recent history," Guterres said in a statement.

Russian President Vladimir Putin esteemed Churkin's "professionalism and diplomatic talents," spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, according to the state news agency TASS.

Diplomatic colleagues from around the world mourned Churkin as a master in their field: a passionate and effective advocate for his country; an intellectual with a doctorate in history who was also a onetime child actor with an acute wit; a formidable adversary who could remain a friend.

"We did not always see things the same way, but he unquestionably advocated his country's positions with great skill," US Ambassador Nikki Haley said in a statement.

Her predecessor, Samantha Power, described him on Twitter as a "diplomatic maestro and deeply caring man" who had done all he could to bridge differences between the US and Russia.

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