Russia’s combative ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, died suddenly in New York on Monday (February 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 hospital shortly before his death.
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.
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.
Churkin was a pugnacious defender of Russian policy, notably its intensive bombing of the Syrian city of Aleppo last year to crush rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.
Churkin first came to prominence as foreign ministry spokesman for the Soviet Union from 1990 until the collapse of the superpower the following year. Despite the pressure of events, he appeared to revel in the attention of the Western correspondents who mobbed him at briefings, and was happy to respond to them at length in fluent English.
He went on to serve as deputy Russian foreign minister and ambassador to Belgium and then to Canada, eventually moving to the U.N. in 2006.