UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 21 (Xinhua) -- The UN Security Council on Tuesday paid tribute to the late Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, mourning the veteran diplomat with a series of condolences.

Ahead of a meeting held here, diplomats stood for a minute of silence in memory of Churkin. Ambassadors of the 15 council members paid tribute to Churkin with short speeches.

Churkin, who became the Russian permanent representative to the United Nations since 2006, reportedly died of an apparent heart attack in New York on Monday morning at the age of 64. He would have turned 65 on Tuesday.

Peter Iliichev, Russia's first deputy permanent representative to the UN, expressed gratefulness for the "warm words and condolences."

He said Russia has lost "a striking diplomat" who is a high professional with deep knowledge and talent working at one of the most crucial positions to defend his country.

Chinese Ambassador to the UN Liu Jieyi said China is "deeply saddened" by the passing of Churkin, and he expressed heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family and the government of Russia as well as the Russian mission to the UN.

Liu praised Churkin as "an able, experienced and senior diplomat" who has made a huge contribution to the UN and multilateralism.

"He worked till the last minute of his life, illustrating what it's meant by dedication and professionalism, and is thus an outstanding representative of diplomats," said Liu.

Ambassador of United Kingdom Matthew Rycroft described Churkin as "a diplomatic giant."

"We disagree on many issues, but I always find him an honest and descent colleague no matter the issues, no matter the positions," said Rycroft.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also expressed his regret at Churkin's passing which "represents a deep loss for all of us in the United Nations, including in this Council, where his distinctive voice was ever-present for the past decade."

Born on Feb. 21, 1952 in Moscow, Churkin was ambassador-at-large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation from 2003 to 2006. He was his country's ambassador to Canada from 1998 to 2003, and to Belgium from 1994 to 1998 before he represented Russia at the United Nations since 2006.

His sudden death stunned the diplomatic community, staff of the UN secretariat and reporters here.