The Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, died unexpectedly at the age of 65 on Tuesday, the Russian foreign ministry has confirmed.
Churkin served as Russia’s permanent representative to the UN since 2006, and died of a mysterious heart attack in New York, according to reports.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power tweeted that Churkin was a “diplomatic maestro and deeply caring man” who did all he could to bridge differences between the U.S. and Russia.
Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Churkin died “unexpectedly” and noted that Tuesday was his birthday.
“Great diplomat. Uncommon personality. Brilliant person. We lost one of our own,” she wrote on Facebook.
Devastated by passing of Russian UN Amb Vitaly Churkin.Diplomatic maestro &deeply caring man who did all he cld to bridge US-RUS differences
— Samantha Power (@SamanthaJPower) February 20, 2017
Last year, Churkin filed a formal complaint at the U.N. demanding the high commissioner for human rights stop criticizing then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, The Intercept reported.
Churkin was considered Moscow’s great champion at the U.N.
He had a reputation for an acute wit and sharp repartee, especially with his American and Western counterparts.
He was previously ambassador at large and earlier served as the foreign ministry spokesman.
“A brilliant ambassador who served his country & people. May he rest in peace,” Karel van Oosterom, the Netherlands’ ambassador to the U.N. tweeted.
Emotional announcement at UN of passing away this morning of PermRep Russia Churkin and moment of commemoration and condolences. pic.twitter.com/T7x7sg9yRo
— Karel van Oosterom (@KvanOosterom) February 20, 2017
His death comes amid heightened scrutiny of the Trump administration’s ties to Russia.
Last week, Trump’s national security advisor Michael Flynn resigned after it emerged he had lied about lied about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador about U.S. sanctions on Moscow before Trump took office.
Churkin’s death is the second recent unexpected loss for Russia’s diplomatic corps. In December Russia’s ambassador to Turkey was assassinated at an art exhbit in Ankara.