Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, died suddenly on Monday in New York City, one day before his 65th birthday.

According to the New York Post, Churkin was at the Russian embassy on East 67th Street on Monday morning, when he suffered a “cardiac condition.”  He was then rushed to the New York Presbyterian Hospital at around 9:30 a.m, where he arrived unconscious and in need of CPR.

Churkin was considered a tough talker, frequently defending seemingly indefensible positions taken by the Kremlin on the world’s stage at the United Nations.  He served as Russia’s envoy to the global organization since 2006, where he established a reputation for being intelligent and capable, frequently standing toe to toe with representatives from Russia’s political opponents like the United States.  Prior to his death, Churkin was the longest-serving member of the U.N. Security Council, which is recognized as the most powerful body within the organization.

“We did not always see things the same way, but he unquestionably advocated his country’s positions with great skill,” Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement. “We send our prayers and heartfelt condolences to lift up his family and to the Russian people.”

Russian State news agency TASS has reported that Vladimir Putin was notified of Churkin’s death earlier today, and spoke well of his efforts on behalf of the Russian nation.

“The president was grieved to learn about the death of Vitaly Churkin. The head of state highly estimated Churkin’s professionalism and diplomatic talents,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said told reporters.

Churkin’s outspoken defense of Russian operations around the world, such as Russian military involvement in Syria, led to many a heated engagement with western ambassadors, but a number of his former sparring partners issued statements regarding his death that reflected the man’s diplomatic acumen, as well as his larger than life personality.

Samantha Power, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, who made headlines when accusing Russia, Syria and Iran of “having no shame” when addressing their ambassadors, including Churkin, about Syria last year, took to Twitter to speak kindly of the departed statesman.

“Devastated by passing of Russian UN Amb[assador] Vitaly Churkin. Diplomatic maestro & deeply caring man who did all he could to bridge US-RUS difference.”  She posted on Monday afternoon.

French ambassador to the U.N., Francois Delattre also spoke well of Churkin’s as both an ambassador and a man, saying the two had “always worked together in a spirit of mutual respect and personal friendship,” despite their differences.  Britain’s U.N. ambassador also tweeted that he was “devastated” by Churkin’s passing, calling him a “a diplomatic giant and wonderful character.”

Churkin had a doctorate in history from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and was widely regarded as a talented spokesman for the Russian government, which often found itself in a position in deed of capable defense.  His quick wit and ability to defend the decisions of Russian President Vladimir Putin in the face of sometimes overwhelming criticism at the U.N. will make for a significant gap to fill as far as the Kremlin’s external relations with the world are concerned.


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