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Updated on 20 February 2017

Chapter 3:   THE PEOPLE

Section 2:   Permanent Members


Recalling Vitaly I. Churkin, Russian Permanent Representative from 2006 to 2017


Vitaly I. Churkin, the long-serving Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, died on 20 February 2017.  At the time of his passing, Ambassador Churkin far surpassed any other current Security Council representative in seniority, having presented his credentials on 1 May 2006.  Such long service was the hallmark of two previous Soviet or Russian ambassadors to the United Nations:  Yakov Malik was the Soviet representative to the UN from 1948 to 1952, and again from 1968 to 1976; Sergey Lavrov served as the Russian Permanent Representative for ten years, from 1994 to 2004.  (The longest serving Permanent Representative in the history of the Security Council was Tingfu Fuller Tsiang, who represented the Republic of China for fifteen years, from 1947 to 1962.)


Ambassador Churkin was known as a master diplomat, able to deliver both robust prepared statements and incisive off-the-cuff remarks with equal effectiveness.  His grasp of the issues before the Council was greatly respected by his colleagues, regardless of their own stance on those same issues.  While he could be an intimidating verbal adversary when he thought his country’s foreign policy aims required it, in the day-to-day life of the Council, his expansive personality and ready humour often added a much-appreciated element of collegiality. 


In writing our book, The Procedure of the UN Security Council, the authors endeavoured to cite, whenever possible, a broad range of views among Council members, both permanent and elected.  In so doing, we also made the decision not to identify Council representatives by name, so as not overly to focus on personality.  Therefore, the references to Ambassador Churkin in the book are not always evident.  In recognition of Ambassador Churkin, this website reprints here a selection of quotes from the book which give an idea of the range of positions taken by him across a broad spectrum of issues from the procedural to the substantive:


  • “On 27 March 2013, on the occasion of the inauguration of the newly renovated Consultations Room, the representative of the Russian Federation, which had designed and donated the upgraded premises, remarked:


‘This is the place where the most important decisions affecting international peace and

security are hashed out.  This is the place where the most heated debates occur.  This is the

place where the diplomats who have the privilege to work in the Security Council spend the

most interesting hours and days of their professional lives. This is, quite simply, the most

fascinating place in the entire diplomatic universe.’”  (page 207)


  • “For some years now, incoming Council Presidents have presented a briefing to non-Council Member States the day that the Programme of Work for the month has been adopted in consultations.  Such briefings . . .  are generally well attended.”  [Footnote:  “Initially, that was not the case.  The Russian representative noted that only eight delegates attended his briefing in May 2009” (S/PV.6672 of 30 November 2011, p. 4)]  (page 107)


  • “The informal wrap-up briefing given by the representative of the Russian Federation on 28 March 2013 was the first wrap-up conducted by a permanent member” [UN Journal No. 2013/58, p. 2 of 26 March 2013]  (page 55).


  • “For . . . a number of years it was common practice for the representative of the lead country – or ‘penholder’– for an item to have the option of speaking first, should he or she so wish.  That practice became more variable, starting with the presidency of the Russian Federation in March 2013.  The Russian representative had spoken directly to this issue during an open debate on working methods in 2012:


‘We are convinced that the aim of improving both the transparency and the democratic nature

of the Council would be furthered by a better division of responsibilities of the informal

leadership of the so-called penholders.  We deem unfounded the prevailing opinion that the

so-called penholders have some kind of right to always take the floor first when discussing

relevant issues.  In our opinion, that is justified only when they are introducing draft decisions

to the Council and therefore representing them.  In all other cases, discussions should be more informal and there should be no so-called mentoring’” [S/PV.6870].  (page 262)


  • “At a meeting held on 28 May 2009 on the Council’s mission to Africa earlier that month, the representative of Costa Rica delivered a blistering attack on the way in which the mission had been prepared.  [In this connection, he alleged] that there were ‘double standards vis-à-vis the members of the Council:  the permanent members on the one hand and the elected members on the other’. . . .   [The Russian representative, speaking] ‘as President of the Council and as the Permanent Representative of a permanent member of the Council’, expressed regret that the representative of Costa Rica had 'sought to introduce some sort of artificial dividing line between permanent members of the Security Council and the elected members of the Security Council, and between Member States and the Secretariat, with which we cooperate very closely in preparing for missions of the Security Council’” [S/PV.6131].  (pages 496-497)


  • “In 2009, representatives of Kosovo were present in the General Assembly Hall under the aegis of a Member State on two separate occasions. . . .  At least one Member State complained to the Secretary-General that the Kosovars were not entitled to be in the General Assembly Hall, since they were to have access to UN premises only for the purpose of participating in Security Council proceedings.  The matter was raised at a Council meeting on Kosovo, on 15 October 2009, by the representative of the Russian Federation, who stated:


‘We draw the Council’s attention to the unacceptability of the arbitrary participation of Kosovo representatives in international forums, including the United Nations and its specialized agencies.  Unfortunately, we were recently witness to blatant violations in that regard. . . .  Such flagrant breaches of the provisions of resolution 1244 (1999) and of United Nations rules and procedure

are unacceptable, and we assume that they will not happen again’” [S/PV.6202]. (pages 63-64)


  • “The representative of the Russian Federation, speaking next, offered a differing view [than that of the United States representative] on the new status of Palestine.  Welcoming the Palestinian Foreign Minister, he underlined that Malki was ‘taking the floor for the first time in this Chamber in his new capacity as representative of the observer State to the United Nations’” [S/PV.6906].  (page 258)


  • “Criticism that the Security Council has unduly relied on its Chapter VII powers, at the expense of other means, for fulfilling its Charter mandate has not been limited to non-Council members.  At a Council debate on working methods in November 2011, the Russian representative stated that


‘We also understand the concern that the Council may too often resort to Chapter VII of the

Charter, including the application of sanctions.  In that regard, we stress that the Russian

Federation has consistently called on the Council to make more active use of the toolkit of

preventive diplomacy and to invest in the development of mechanisms for the peaceful

settlement of disputes.  The provisions of Chapters VI and VIII should be fully exploited.  

Sanctions and the use of force to settle conflict are appropriate when all possibilities for

peaceful settlement have been exhausted, the threat to international peace and security is

clear, and the decision to resort to Chapter VII enjoys the broadest possible support of Council members’” [S/PV.6672].  (page 390)


  • “As presented by the representative of France in an open Council debate on 29 October 2013, the French proposal [that the five permanent members voluntarily pledge not to use the veto in case of mass atrocities] would include three elements. . . .  The Russian representative, speaking immediately after the representative of France, countered that, ‘The suggestion that weakening the right of veto would help to improve the Security Council’s effectiveness is deeply deluded and would in fact have the opposite effect’” [S/PV.7052].  (page 316)


  • [In connection with the draft resolution on Syria vetoed by China and the Russian Federation on 19 July 2012], “In his statement after the vote, the Russian representative also made the point that the sponsors had brought the draft resolution to the vote knowing in advance what the outcome would be:  ‘The vote that just took place should not have taken place at all.  The sponsors of the draft resolution just rejected (S/2012/538) were well aware that it simply stood no chance of being adopted’” [S/PV.6810].  (page 313)


  • “In a meeting held on 19 July 2012, at which a third draft resolution on Syria was vetoed by the representatives of China and the Russian Federation, the latter made reference to a parallel draft resolution which his delegation had submitted . . . .  But rather than request a vote on this draft resolution at that time, the Russian representative explained that his delegation believed


‘that continued confrontation in the Security Council is useless and counterproductive, and for

that reason, we will not submit our draft resolution to a vote.  In the present conditions, we

would consider it right for the Security Council to adopt a brief de-politicized resolution on a

technical extension of the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria mandate for a specific

period of time’” [S/PV.6810].  (page 360)


  • Although the vote on resolution 2100 (2013) [establishing the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA)] was unanimous, concerns similar to those raised in connection with the establishment of the MONUSCO Intervention Brigade were voiced by the representative of the Russian Federation.  Invoking both the MONUSCO and MINUSMA mandates, he indicated that his Government was disturbed by the growing shift towards the military aspects of United Nations peacekeeping.


‘What was once the exception now threatens to become unacknowledged standard practice,

with unpredictable and unclear consequences for the security of United Nations personnel and

their international legal status.  In that connection . . . there should be a clear boundary between peacekeeping and enforcing peace’” [S/PV.6952].  (page 501)



With Ambassador Churkin’s passing, the United Nations has lost a highly intelligent, frank, colourful and dynamic presence, and a diplomat deeply committed to the dignity of the Security Council.







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