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Russia’s ambassador to U.N. dies of cardiac arrest in New York at 64

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NEW YORK — Tributes poured in Monday for Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations who died suddenly in New York. He was remembered for his intellect, wit and the pride he took in serving his country.

Churkin died one day before his 65th birthday.

The diplomat suffered from cardiac arrest while at the Russian Mission on East 67th Street, a law enforcement official said. He was taken to New York’s Presbyterian Hospital, where he died.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said “the outstanding Russian diplomat died while he was in his current working role.” And President Vladimir Putin “expressed sympathy to the friends and family as well as to the staff of the Russian Foreign Ministry,” the Kremlin said.

Members of the UN General Assembly stood for a moment of silence in memory of their colleague.

“We’ve lost one of the most respected and influential members of the UN family,” said UN General Assembly President Peter Thomson. “I can say with confidence that his name’s going to live on in the annals of this organization’s history.”

Thomson said Churkin will be remembered for “his great intellect and his consummate diplomatic skills, and for his good humor and consideration for others.”

Thomson added: “Not only has Russia lost one of its truest sons, but here at the United Nations, we’ve lost one of our truest.”

At the end of the moment of silence, Thomson said: “Rest in peace, dear Vitaly.”

A gracious, formidable colleague

Churkin was known as a confident, combative, disarming and humorous fixture at the UN Security Council. He was often at odds with the United States, the United Kingdom and France. China would often take its cue from how Russia would vote.

For a decade, it was Churkin who raised his arm to veto numerous resolutions ranging from the Syrian crisis to the Malaysia Airlines crash over eastern Ukraine.

He stood firm in supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime against Western attacks. And he cited US policy in Libya as a symbol of failure by Western countries who favored regime change.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley called Churkin “a gracious colleague.”

“We did not always see things the same way, but he unquestionably advocated his country’s positions with great skill,” she said in a statement.

Susan Rice, former US ambassador to the United Nations, said Churkin was “a formidable adversary, but always a friend.”

Another former US ambassador, Samantha Power, said she was heartbroken by Churkin’s death and credited him with trying to help improve Russian-US relations.

“Devastated by passing of UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin,” Power tweeted. “Diplomatic maestro & deeply caring man who did all he cld to bridge US-RUS differences.”

And Gérard Araud, a former French ambassador to the United Nations, said Churkin was an “extraordinary colleague” during Araud’s five years on the UN Security Council.

“Abrasive, funny and technically impeccable,” Araud tweeted about Churkin. “Sincere condolences.”