Prague, Jan. 10 (RFE/RL) - The appointment of Yevgeny
Primakov as Russia's new foreign minister confirms Moscow's move away
from a European and American-focused foreign policy toward one that
tries to enhance Russia as a Eurasian power.
With the political resurgence of communists and nationalists, this
trend had been noted by analysts. Since Andrei Kozyrev's resignation
from the foreign minister's post last Friday, speculation on a
successor had centered on a handful of well-known public figures.
Primakov was not on most analysts' lists.
But now that Boris Yeltsin has put Primakov in the post, the
appointment seems like a natural fit. In the shadowy world of Kremlin
politics, Primakov is the consummate insider - a man with close ties
to the intelligence community who has spent a lifetime rising through
the ranks, relying on his academic knowledge, shrewdness and personal
The 66-year-old Primakov speaks fluent Arabic and holds a degree in
Arabic studies from the Institute for Oriental Studies in Moscow. He
served as a Middle East correspondent for the Soviet daily Pravda in
the 1960s and later became an academic -- though he was always better
known as a "diplomat" than a passionate scholar.
Primakov became head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence service in
the autumn of 1991. He remained there until his appointment as
foreign minister. Under Gorbachev, Primakov was a foreign-policy
adviser to the Soviet leader. He served as the advance man at several
Soviet-American summits. But Primakov played his most public role as
Mikhail Gorbachev's personal emissary to Baghdad, when he held
one-on-one talks with Saddam Hussein in an attempt to avert the Gulf
War. Primakov stood by Gorbachev during the failed putsch of 1991,
but was able to move seamlessly onto Yeltsin's team after the
collapse of the Soviet Union. Rumors have long circulated that
Primakov quietly passed information to Yeltsin during Gorbachev's
final months in office to ensure his loyalty.
Primakov is, at heart, a pragmatist and a skilled negotiator who is
at home in both Asia and the West. Although siding with Yeltsin, he
has cultivated a reputation as somewhat of a hard-liner. That will
make him palatable to the parliament's nationalist and Communist
factions. During his stint as intelligence chief, Primakov issued a
report accusing the West of trying to prevent Russia from becoming a
great power. Last year, in a rare interview with the Komsomolskaya
Pravda daily, Primakov said intelligence gathering was vital to
protecting Russia's national interest.
Leading politicians yesterday praised Primakov's appointment.
Vladimir Lukin, head of the previous Duma's foreign relations
committee and a former ambassador to the United States said:
"Primakov knows the East and West well. He understands what Russia's
real priorities are. He is for cooperation but for real cooperation,
not for giving ground."
Although outgoing foreign minister Kozyrev had adopted a more
nationalistic tone during the past two years, anti-reformists
despised him and accused him of selling out to the West. Many of his
colleagues within the foreign ministry resented the loss of prestige
that Kozyrev had brought on their institution.
It remains to be seen how much prestige and authority the Russian
foreign ministry can regain - and how much decision-making power will
fall to Yeltsin's new Kremlin-based foreign policy council.
As Scott Parish, a Russian analyst at the Prague-based Open Media
Research Institute notes: "Being Russia's foreign minister right now
is a politically thankless task. Russia is weak but the nationalists
in the parliament think Russia is strong. As foreign minister, the
job is to constantly try to bridge that reality gap." Parish said any
foreign minister in Russia is "bound to get caught holding the bag at
some point." But so far, Primakov has built a career on his ability
to never be outmaneuvered.