2017-02-20 18:50:50 UTC
Feb 20 2017, 1:41 pm ET
Russian Ambassador to United Nations Dies Suddenly
by Corky Siemaszko
Vitaly Churkin, the tough-talking Russian ambassador to the United Nations, died suddenly Monday, officials said.
Churkin, who was 64, was at his desk when he died, the Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed. But the ministry gave no details about the circumstances of his passing.
"A prominent Russian diplomat has passed away while at work," the Ministry said in a statement on its official website. "We'd like to express our sincere condolences to Vitaly Churkin's family.'
Born Feb. 21, 1952 in Moscow, Churkin died a day before his 65th birthday. He was a fierce defender of his country's policies, including Russia's much-criticized bombing last year of the Syrian city of Aleppo last year to oust rebels opposed to President Bashar Al-Assad.
During the presidential election, Churkin raised eyebrows by lodging a complaint about a UN official's criticism of then-candidate Donald Trump, the Associated Press reported.
It's not clear if Trump was aware that Churkin rose to his defense, but the Senate and House Intelligence Committees are now both investigating possible Russian interference in the presidential election.
Churkin began his 32-year diplomatic career in 1974 when Russia was still the Soviet Union, according to a United Nations biography.
Fluent in English and French, Churkin was a child actor who appeared in pair of Communist-era movies about Lenin before he set out to become a diplomat.
Before arriving in New York City, Churkin was ambassador-at-large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation from 2003 to 2006. He was his country's ambassador to Canada from 1998 to 2003, and to Belgium from 1994 to 1998.
Prior to that, Churkin was deputy foreign minister of the Russian Federation from 1992 to 1994. And before that he headed the Information Department at the Foreign Ministry in the Soviet era.
Churkin made his first mark on the world stage in 1986 when at age 34 he became the first Russian diplomat to testify before a U.S. Congressional committee. He was questioned about the Chernobyl nuclear accident and asked to explain why Moscow waited for days before alerting its neighbors about the disaster.
It did not go well, as the Chicago Tribune reported in a story headlined "Soviet Envoy Does Dance For Congress."
"The world is appalled, Mr. Churkin, and they want to know why didn't warn them," Rep. Edward Markey, D- Mass., said.
"We are certainly well aware of our responsibilities," Churkin replied. "We have been very forthcoming. It is my understanding that no harm was done — real harm — in those countries which are adjacent to the Soviet Union, to the people who live there."