Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to UN, dies suddenly at 64

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NEW YORK — The Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, died suddenly in New York, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

He died Monday at age 64, one day before his 65th birthday.

Churkin 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.”

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

Russian Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Ivanovich Churkin speaks to the media after a Security Council meeting at UN Headquarters in New York on October 6, 2016.  (Photo credit: EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Ivanovich Churkin speaks to the media after a Security Council meeting at UN Headquarters in New York on October 6, 2016. (Photo credit: EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)

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.

Susan Rice, former US ambassador to the UN, 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 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 UN, 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.”

The president of the UN General Assembly, Peter Thomson, said “the Russian Federation and the United Nations have lost a true son and a great international intellect.”

Thomson is expected to make a formal statement at the UN on Monday afternoon.

CNN’s Emma Burrows, Milena Veselinovic and Shimon Prokupecz contributed to this report.

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