More than two weeks after Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations fell ill and died in his New York City office, a senior official told The Associated Press on Friday that Vitaly Churkin died of a heart attack.
The New York City medical examiner’s office would not give details, saying Churkin would keep his diplomatic immunity after his death. The senior New York City official spoke on condition of anonymity.
“In order to comply with international law and protocol, the New York City Law Department has instructed the Office of Chief Medical Examiner to not publicly disclose the cause and manner of death of Ambassador Vitaly Churkin,” Julie Bolcer, spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office, said in a statement.
The medical examiner investigates deaths that occur by criminal violence, accident or suicide or when the death is sudden. It also takes the case when the person seemed healthy, or died in an unusual manner. Most of the deaths investigated by the office are not suspicious, The Associated Press reports.
Churkin, who died a day before his 65th birthday, had been Russia’s envoy at the U.N. since 2006. He was the longest-serving ambassador on the Security Council, the U.N.’s most powerful body.
Churkin emerged as the face of a new approach to foreign affairs by the Soviet Union in 1986, when he testified before Congress in the U.S. about the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster. His fluent English and friendly, sometimes humorous, exchange with lawmakers marked a departure from the tone they’d come to expect from the Soviet Union.
After he returned to the foreign ministry in Moscow, he debated with western correspondents at briefings in the early 1990s. He later held ambassadorships in Canada and Belgium, among other posts.
“He could spot even the narrowest opportunities to find a compromise,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said last month, calling Churkin “brilliant, wise, gracious, and funny.”
Fox News’ Shira Bush and The Associated Press contributed to this report.