UNITED NATIONS (AP) " Russia's late U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin was remembered Tuesday as "a consummate diplomat" who passionately defended Moscow's positions but later reached out to those who disagreed because he knew that interaction among people was key to solving the world's problems.
At a ceremony in the General Assembly hall, diplomats from the U.N.'s 193 member nations stood silently to honor Churkin, who died suddenly on Feb. 20 " the day before his 65th birthday. Then, U.N. leaders and regional representatives paid tribute to him as his wife, Irina, and son, Maxim, watched.
Calling the Russian envoy "a dear friend," Assembly President Peter Thomson said: "To put it simply, in the theater of diplomacy, ambassador Churkin was a giant, a deep and eloquent intellectual with a sharp with and disarmingly approachable manner."
As Russia's U.N. ambassador for nearly 11 years and the longest-serving member on the powerful Security Council, Churkin had a very high profile. But Germany's deputy U.N. ambassador Jurgen Schulz said it was how he carried out the job that made him "a landmark figure" in the halls of the United Nations.
Speaking on behalf of the Western group of nations, Schulz said one of Churkin's "core strengths was his ability to connect with his counterparts at a personal level," even after the most heated debates.
"In the world of diplomacy, there's no greater compliment than to be respected by those with whom one disagrees," Schulz said. "Ambassador Churkin earned this respect from everyone, regardless of policy or political differences."
During his years at the U.N., there were sharp differences especially between Russia and the West, notably over the Syrian conflict, now in its seventh year.
But U.S. Deputy Ambassador Michele Sison echoed Schulz, calling Churkin "a consummate diplomat" and "steadfast advocate for his country's policies" who "was devoted to making the personal connections that make diplomacy work."
"While we did not always see things the same way, Ambassador Churkin had an eye for identifying compromise and recognized the value of stronger relations between our two countries," Sison said.
Malaysia's deputy ambassador, Kennedy Mayong, speaking on behalf of Asian nations, called Churkin "a towering figure," stressing that "even on issues where positions were miles apart and consensus seemed impossible, Ambassador Churkin was known among colleagues in always wanting to engage in a dialogue, a reflection of a genuine diplomat."
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he will never forget that it was Churkin as president of the Security Council in October who announced that its 15 members were unanimously recommending him as the next U.N. chief, to succeed Ban Ki-moon on Jan. 1.
Calling Churkin "simultaneously a patriot and an internationalist," Guterres said, "His was an unmistakable voice " as witty as he was passionate in defending Russian interests while advocating for a strong United Nations."
Russia's charge d'affaires, Petr Iliichev, said messages of condolence have already filled four volumes at the U.N. mission, but Churkin's death also "shook Russia" and sparked an outpouring of grief from thousands of people who never knew him.
"He was distinguished by a sharp wit, intelligence, deep knowledge and also an unconventional view of problems," Iliichev said. "It was possible not to agree with him, but it was impossible not to pay tribute to his diplomatic talent, his professionalism and his charisma."
"He genuinely strived to ensure that our world became better and saw in the U.N. a key instrument for joint work towards realizing that goal," Iliichev said.
This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings