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UN Mourns Death of Russian Ambassador  02/21 06:10

   NEW YORK (AP) -- Russia's ambassador to the United Nations who died suddenly 
after falling ill at his office at Russia's U.N. mission is being remembered by 
his diplomatic colleagues as a powerful and passionate voice for his nation.

   Vitaly Churkin was taken to a hospital, where he died Monday, according to 
Russia's deputy U.N. ambassador, Vladimir Safronkov. Churkin would have turned 
65 Tuesday. The cause of his death was not immediately known.

   Churkin had been Russia's envoy at the United Nations since 2006. He was the 
longest-serving ambassador on the Security Council, the U.N.'s most powerful 
body.

   U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called him "a uniquely skilled 
diplomat, a powerful orator with great wit, and a man of many talents and 
interests."

   "Although we served together for a short time, I greatly appreciated the 
opportunity to work with him and will deeply miss his insights, skills and 
friendship," Guterres said in a statement.

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

   Diplomatic colleagues from around the world mourned Churkin as a master in 
their field, saying he had both a deep knowledge of diplomacy and a large and 
colorful personality.

   U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said that while she and Churkin did not always 
agree, "he unquestionably advocated his country's positions with great skill."

   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 U.S. and Russia.

   Those differences were evident when Power and Churkin spoke at the Security 
Council last month, when she lashed out at Russia for annexing Ukraine's 
Crimean Peninsula and for carrying out "a merciless military assault" in Syria. 
Churkin accused Democratic former President Barack Obama's administration, 
which Power served, of "desperately" searching for scapegoats for its failures 
in Iraq, Syria and Libya.

   Churkin died weeks into some major adjustments for Russia, the U.N. and the 
international community, with a new secretary-general at the world body and a 
new administration in Washington. Meanwhile, the Security Council is due this 
week to discuss Ukraine and Syria.

   From Moscow's vantage point, "Churkin was like a rock against which were 
broken the attempts by our enemies to undermine what constitutes the glory of 
Russia," TASS quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying.

   Churkin's U.N. counterparts "experienced and respected the pride that he 
took in serving his country and the passion and, at times, very stern 
resolution that he brought to his job," said General Assembly President Peter 
Thomson, of Fiji. But colleagues also respected Churkin's intellect, diplomatic 
skills, good humor and consideration for others, said Thomson, who called for a 
moment of silence at the start of an unrelated meeting Monday.

   Churkin emerged as the face of a new approach to foreign affairs by the 
Soviet Union in 1986, when he testified before the U.S. Congress about the 
Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster. It was rare for any Soviet official to appear 
before Congress.

   In fluent English, Churkin provided little new information about Chernobyl 
but engaged in a friendly, sometimes humorous, exchange with lawmakers who were 
not accustomed to such a tone --- or to a representative in a fashionably 
well-fitting suit and a stylish haircut --- from the U.S.S.R.

   After he returned to the foreign ministry in Moscow, he ably dodged 
questions and parried with Western correspondents, often with a smile, at 
briefings in the early 1990s. Within the government, he proved himself an able 
and flexible presence who survived numerous course changes after the 
dissolution of the Soviet Union. He held ambassadorships in Canada and Belgium, 
among other posts.

   Churkin told Russia Today in an interview this month that diplomacy had 
become "much more hectic," with political tensions rising and stability elusive 
in various hotspots. At the time, he looked in good health, reporter Alexey 
Yaroshevsky tweeted Monday.


(KA)

 
 
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