Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin Dies at 65: The Maestro of Russian Diplomacy

02.21.17
Rick Bajornas
World News /21 Feb 2017
02.21.17

Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin Dies at 65: The Maestro of Russian Diplomacy

On Monday morning, Russian Envoy to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin shockingly passed away at the age of 64 due to illness just a day before his 65th birthday. He was the face and voice of Russia at the United Nations. The ambassador was a very talented speaker with a sense of humor who defended the Russian Federation’s views on world affairs.

Ambassador Churkin was a very committed diplomat who graduated from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and earned his PhD from the USSR Diplomatic Academy in 1981. He started his diplomatic career as a spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry for the Soviet Union/Russian Federation and he was the Russian Foreign Minister from 1992-1994. In 2006, Vitaly Churkin replaced Andrey Denisov as the new Russian Ambassador to the United Nations and served as the senior chairman of the Arctic Council.

For eleven years, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, a veteran diplomat, stood up and defended the opinions of the Russian government and its people. Ambassador Chrukin vigorously represented the positions of Russia even though he faced sharp criticism from western powers like the United States. Outside the tense debates at the United Nations, Churkin had a great sense of humor. Churkin was very well known for answering questions from U.S. lawmakers on the Chernobyl power plant incident in 1986. This was significant because it was very rare for a Soviet diplomat to appear before Congress. “We don’t want to hide any information which might be helpful to other countries.”

At the time, Churkin impressed many people in the media with his testimony and he challenged the skeptical viewpoints of the U.S. Congress. During his testimony, he silenced critics by saying “If you want to talk to my country in a commanding tone, forget it.”

Since graduating from the Moscow Institute of International Relations in 1974, Churkin knew that he had dedicated his life to diplomacy. In his last interview with Russia Today, Churkin never regretted choosing a career in diplomacy.

His diplomatic counterparts have reacted with shock to the death of Ambassador Vitaly Churkin. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power tweeted that she was “devastated by [the] passing of Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin. Diplomatic maestro & deeply caring man who did all he could to bridge U.S.-Russia differences.” Former National Security Advisor to President Obama, Susan Rice, tweeted, “shocked and deeply saddened by this news. Vitaly was a huge force at the UN. Smart, committed, highly effective, and very funny.”

Churkin’s death comes at a critical time in U.S.-Russia relations. With relations at an all-time low since the Cuban Missile Crisis, the future of U.S.-Russia relations faces many roadblocks relating to the allegations made by the U.S. Congress on Russia’s alleged influence on the U.S. elections, the crisis in Syria, and the Ukraine Crisis.

Yesterday the United Nations held a moment of silence honoring the life of Vitaly Churkin after the Russian Delegation informed the United Nations about his unexpected passing. Despite the tensions in the United Nations, Ambassador Chrukin wanted to build bridges with the United States and represented a genuine understanding towards other nations even if they did not agree but Churkin was a fighter and he was not afraid to represent the interests of the Russian Federation. He was also a defender of the rights of smaller countries such as Nicaragua. Being a diplomat in the United Nations is a very demanding and challenging job.

Vitaly Churkin’s last TV interview with Russia Today was a memorable one. He touched on many foreign policy issues such as Libya, Syria and Ukraine to name a few. He also stressed the vital importance of the United Nations as a role model for the world. “The UN continues to be an indispensable mechanism. Without the UN, we would be acting all on our own, without much coordination and then we would be even less successful than we have been so far. At least there is a platform for us to bring our views together.”

Ambassador Churkin will always be remembered as not only a committed diplomat who represented the international voice of the Russian Federation, but he was genuine. This is a sad loss for the international community and we will never forget his accomplishments throughout his long career serving as not only an ambassador for Russia, but for the world.

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