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Death of Russia’s ambassador to UN needs to be further studied


New York, Feb 22: The cause and manner of death of Russia's ambassador to the United Nations needs to be studied further, the city medical examiner has said, a day after the diplomat fell ill at his office at Russia's UN mission and died at a hospital.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin, left, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, and Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin listen to speakers during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters.

Further study usually includes toxicology and other screenings, which can take weeks. The case was referred to the medical examiner's office by the hospital, spokeswoman Julie Bolcer said. Vitaly Churkin, who died a day before his 65th birthday, had been Russia's envoy at the United Nations since 2006.

He was the longest-serving ambassador on the Security Council, the UN's most powerful body. The medical examiner is responsible for investigating deaths that occur by criminal violence, accident, suicide, suddenly or when the person seemed healthy, or if someone died in any unusual or suspicious manner.

Most of the deaths investigated by the office are not suspicious. Russian President Vladimir Putin esteemed Churkin's "professionalism and diplomatic talents," spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to the state news agency TASS. Moscow has not yet given a date for Churkin's funeral.

Diplomatic colleagues from around the world mourned Churkin as a master in their field, saying he had both a deep knowledge of diplomacy and a large and colorful personality. US Ambassador Nikki Haley said that while she and Churkin did not always agree, "he unquestionably advocated his country's positions with great skill."

Her predecessor, Samantha Power, described him on Twitter as a "diplomatic maestro and deeply caring man" who had done all he could to bridge differences between the U.S. and Russia. Those differences were evident when Power and Churkin spoke at the Security Council last month, and Power lashed out at Russia for annexing Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and for carrying out "a merciless military assault" in Syria. Churkin countered that Democratic former President Barack Obama's administration, in which Power served, was "desperately" searching for scapegoats for its failures in Iraq, Syria and Libya.

Churkin died weeks into some major adjustments for Russia, the UN and the international community, with a new secretary-general at the world body and a new administration in Washington. Meanwhile, the Security Council discussed Ukraine yesterday and is set to discuss Syria later in the week.

Ukraine is currently holding the Security Council's rotating presidency, and Ukrainian Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko led members Tuesday in a moment of silence in Churkin's memory. Yelchenko didn't add his own words to the tributes that followed, though Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin gave condolences when reporters asked afterward.


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