Unanswered questions about Russia’s U.N. Ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, and the U.S. role in suppressing the results of his autopsy

Russia’s deceased U.N. Ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, may well have been aware of the details of Russian intervention in 2016 U.S. elections; State Department intervened to prevent autopsy results from becoming public

Among those on the list of Russian diplomats and other top officials who died suddenly in the last six months is Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s U.N. Ambassador and head of the U.N. Mission in New York.


(1) Somini Senguptafeb, “Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s U.N. Ambassador, Dies at 64,” New York Times, February 20, 2017.

(2) AP, “NYC medical examiner says more study needed in death of Russian diplomat,” CBS News, February 21, 2017 (2:30 PM).

“NEW YORK – The cause and manner of death of Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations needs to be studied further, the city medical examiner said Tuesday, a day after the diplomat fell ill at his office at Russia’s U.N. mission and died at a hospital.

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.”

(3)  Somini Sengupta, “New York Examiner Won’t Disclose Cause of Russian Envoy’s Death,” New York Times, March 10, 2017.

(4) Dr. Catherine Mullaly, “US Mission to the UN: Do Not Release Vitaly Churkin’s Autopsy Report,” Pass Blue: Independent Coverage of the U.N., March 12, 2017.

“Four days after Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin’s sudden death in New York City last month, the United States Mission to the United Nations wrote to the New York City Mayor’s Office for International Affairs and requested a communications blackout on Churkin’s autopsy findings and cause of death. The result of this request means that the public may never know the official reason for the ambassador’s death.

The autopsy communication constraints were not the case for a second Russian national, Sergei Krivov, who died unexpectedly at age 63 at the Russian consulate on the Upper East Side in New York City on Nov. 8, 2016. The chief medical examiner’s office released his cause of death, which was “hemorrhagic complications of aorto-broncho-esophageal fistula due to probable neoplasm.” Krivov died of natural causes.”

(5) Dulcie Leimbach, “Vitaly Churkin, 64, Russia’s Longtime Ambassador to the UN, Dies Suddenly,” Pass Blue: Independent Coverage of the U.N.,” February 20, 2017.

A little-noticed passage from the Christopher Steele dossier on Russian intervention in the 2016 U.S. elections and collusion between Russian officials and Trump associates, also known as the “Golden Showers” dossier, declares that “Russian diplomatic staff in key cities such as New York” were used to direct payments to U.S.-based actors involved in the intervention into the election and the information flows involved.

Excerpt from Christopher Steel dossier (“Golden Showers” dossier), at p. 8:


2. Inter alia, Source E, acknowledged that the Russian regime had been
behind the recent leak of embarrassing e-mail messages, emanating from
the Democratic National Committee (DNC), to the WikiLeaks platform.

The reason for using WikiLeaks was “plausible deniability” and the
operation had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of
TRUMP and senior members of his campaign team. In return the TRUMP
team had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a
campaign issue and to raise defence commitments in the
Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine, a
priority for PUTIN who needed to cauterise the subject.

3. In the wider context campaign/Kremlin co-operation, Source
claimed that the intelligence network being used against CLINTON
comprised three elements. there were agents/facilitators within
the Democratic Party structure itself; secondly Russian emigrant and
associated offensive cyber operators based in the U.S.; and thirdly, state-
sponsored cyber operatives working in Russia. All three elements had
played an important role to date. On the mechanism for rewarding
relevant assets based in the US, and effecting a two-way flow of
intelligence and other useful information, Source claimed that Russian
diplomatic staff in key cities such as New York, Washington DC and
Miami were using the emigrant pension distribution system as cover.
operation therefore depended on key people in the US Russian emigrant
community for its success. Tens of thousands of dollars were involved(emphasis added).

For the full text of the Christopher Steele dossier, see:

Ken Bensinger, Miriam Elder (BuzzFeed News World Editor), and Mark Schoofs, “These Reports Allege Trump Has Deep Ties To Russia; A dossier, compiled by a person who has claimed to be a former British intelligence official, alleges Russia has compromising information on Trump. The allegations are unverified, and the report contains errors,” BuzzFeed, January 10, 2017 (3:20 p.m.; updated at 6:09 p.m.).

Vitaly Churkin was the head of the Russian diplomatic Mission and consulate in New York City. He certainly should have known the deatils about payments to and information flows related to the Russian intervention in the 2016 elections.

Could his knowledge have become inconvenient to Vladimir Putin?

For details on an earlier scandal at Russiaś U.N. Mission and consulate in NYC, see

“SIDEBAR: Russian Medicare Fraud at the Russian Consulate and U.N. Mission in New York,” in “U.N. Security Council emergency meeting on Ukraine (August 28, 2014) —- with link to video webcast,” The Trenchant Observer, August 29, 2014.

Why did the State Department do the Kremlin’s bidding by suppressing publication of the autopsy report? In doing so they used extremely dubious legal arguments such as the assertion that Churkin’s diplomatic immunity continued after his death and applied to his corpse.

These facts bear closer examination, particularly in view of the State Department’s firm directions to the NYC Medical Examiner’s office to make no public comment on the circumstances of Churkin’s death, and to not publish the autopsy report.

Tillerson had recently been confirmed.

How could this have occurred, with one of the largest counter-espionage investigations in history underway?

Was it sheer incompetence, or a favor to Putin?

In any event, the FBI and the congressional intelligence committees looking into possible collusion between the Russians and Trump’s associates will want to subpoena the autopsy report and also look carefully into what Churkin may have known about the Russian intervention.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.