Russia, Ukraine clash over tribute to UN ambassador
Russia and Ukraine clashed on Tuesday over a UN Security Council tribute to long-serving Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin whose death has triggered an outpouring of grief at the world body.
Council ambassadors observed a minute of silence in honor of Churkin and took turns addressing the chamber in the tribute to the 64-year-old diplomat who was Russia’s envoy at the United Nations for a decade.
Ukraine’s Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko, who holds this month’s council presidency, offered condolences before leading the council in a moment of silence, but his remarks were brief.
The council issued a statement saying they were deeply saddened by Churkin’s passing but Ukraine blocked plans to release a formal presidential statement that carries more weight.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news conference in Moscow that Ukraine’s refusal to allow the statement was “un-Christian” and “goes beyond the limits of good and evil,” Interfax reported.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov took a swipe at the Ukrainians, saying “God will be their judge,” but added the spat over the statement was “not as important as the loss for Russia” of their star diplomat.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said a simple press statement marking Churkin’s passing was “appropriate” and made clear Kiev could not put aside its bitterness over Churkin’s staunch defense of the Kremlin’s policy.
A skilled diplomat, Churkin had defended Moscow’s actions in the conflicts in Ukraine and in Syria, in the face of fierce Western criticism at the Security Council.
“We all know that we had a different idea about how to serve our country,” Klimkin told reporters.
“We had a fundamental difference, and I mean a fundamental difference, in the way that he presented his position.”
More than 10,000 people have been killed in the war in east Ukraine, where pro-Russia separatist fighters are battling Kiev’s government troops.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres joined the council in paying homage to Churkin, describing him as “an outstanding diplomat” and “an extraordinary human being.”
He had “a remarkable sense of humor and an enormous warmth that would make us all feel a natural tendency to become friends,” said Guterres.
Churkin collapsed on Monday while at work at the Russian mission in New York and was rushed to a Manhattan hospital. He died a day before his 65th birthday.