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Yevgeny Primakov

Yevgeny Primakov was the head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, Foreign Minister, and Prime Minister of Russia. Yevgeny Maksimovich Primakov, politician, was born 29 October 1929; and died 26 June 2015.

Born in Kiev, Ukrainian SSR on October 29, 1929 to Russian and Jewish parents, Primakov grew up in Tbilisi, capital of the Georgian SSR. Educated at the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, from which he graduated in 1953, Primakov went on to do post-graduate work at Moscow State University.

Between 1956 to 1970, Primakov worked as a "journalist" specializing in the Middle East for Soviet radio and newspapers, including Pravda. In 1970, Primakov took up the post of Deputy Director of Moscow's prestigious Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO), a job he held until 1977, when he moved on to become the director of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the USSR Academy of Sciences. During this time, he also served as a deputy chairman of the Soviet Peace Committee. Primakov returned to the IMEMO in 1985, serving as director until 1989.

The "journalist" and academician became involved in politics in 1989, when he was elected Chairman of the Soviet of the Union, one of the two chambers of the Supreme Soviet, the highest legislative body in the USSR.

Between 1990 to 1991 Primakov was also invited to serve as a member of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's newly created Presidential Council, a position he held until the failed coup attempt against Gorbachev in August 1991.

By the end of October 1990, it had become commonplace for Soviet spokesmen to assert with respect to Iraq that "if isolation and blockade prove unsuccessful, force will be used." Gorbachev's adviser Yevgeniy Primakov, whose shuttle diplomacy had borne few results, finally conceded that "events are leading to war." This accelerating tendency to accept the inevitability of war attained its zenith after the passage of UN Resolution 678 on November 29, 1990, which authorized the use of force by the coalition by 15 January 1991.

From August to December 1991, Primakov temporarily served as the first deputy chairman of the KGB. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991, Primakov was appointed Director of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, a post which he held until 1996. The academic quickly earned the respect of intelligence professionals by keeping on all the key people and hardly ever pulling rank — and, not least, by refusing the general’s rank that came with the post. He lasted four years at the SVR, but he left his mark on the largely unreformed, though somewhat downsized, organisation.

In 1996, Primakov was appointed to serve Russia's foreign minister, gaining a reputation as a politician from the realist school of foreign policy seeking to protect Russian interests, signaling a shift away from the policy of his predecessor, Andrei Kozyrev, who Russian conservatives characterized as a 'capitulationist' to the West.

An early proponent of the principal of multilateralism opposed to US global hegemony, Primakov became known in the West as an opponent of NATO's eastward expansion, while focusing Russian diplomacy on the improvement of relations with the states of the former Soviet Union and the Middle East. While falling short of his demands, the NATO-Russia Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security, signed in 1997, eventually led to the formation of the Russia-NATO council, charged with handling joint projects and relations between Moscow and the defense Bloc.

Primakov was noted to have been one of the early proponents of a Russian-Chinese-Indian strategic triangle, aimed at counterbalancing the United States. The ideal of enhanced cooperation promoted by the foreign minister would eventually evolve into the BRICS group of nations.

Commenting on Primakov's legacy as foreign minister on the occasion of his 85th birthday last October, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that he was confident that "in the near future, historians will coin a special term to describe Primakov's role in politics. They may call it the Primakov Doctrine. The moment he took over, the Russian Foreign Ministry heralded a dramatic turn of Russia's foreign policy. Russia left the path our Western partners had tried to make it follow after the breakup of the Soviet Union and embarked on a track of its own."

Russia's persistent budget deficits and incomplete structural reforms, combined with recent global economic instability and falling oil prices, led to severe disruptions of the country's economy in FY 1998. In August 1998, Russia, already struggling with a severe economic setback following the collapse of the Soviet Union, was hit by financial crisis, which resulted in the devaluation of the ruble, spiraling inflation, a freeze in the payment of wages and the collapse of state subsidies to Russia's regions. Ultimately, the crisis also led to the country defaulting on its foreign debt.

These factors, in turn, contributed to a sharp decline in imports, a fall in tax payments and a rise in government arrears. Inflation, which had fallen to an annualized rate of 5.5 percent in July 1998, reached 70 percent by September 30, 1998. Russia’s GDP contracted 9.9 percent during the first nine months of 1998.

In the months leading up to the default, facing a political crisis, President Boris Yeltsin dismissed the entire cabinet of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, and then that of acting Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko. Political uncertainty, pivoting on the concessions necessary for Duma confirmation of Chernomyrdin, moved the country into a full-blown economic and political crisis, and Chernomyrdin's nomination was subsequently withdrawn.

Failing to get his candidates for PM approved by parliament, and contending with an enraged conservative and communist opposition, Yeltsin nominated Foreign Minister Primakov as a compromise candidate. Primakov was approved by overwhelming majority on September 11, 1998.

On 10 September 1998 the Russian president appointed Yevgeny Primakov prime minister. Fourteen people from Mr. Kirienko's government were included in the new government. Primakov's government had three first deputy prime ministers and three deputy prime ministers, 25 ministries and 26 ministers (including chief of the government staff). On May 12, 1999, the president decreed to dismiss Primakov's government. Sergei Stepashin was appointed acting prime minister, and on May 19 the State Duma (lower house) approved his candidacy to this post.

Restoring political stability by inviting members of the leading parliamentary factions into his Cabinet, Primakov's interest rate and monetary easing policies assisted Russian producers with an infusion of cash, allowing enterprises to pay backlogged wages, pay off their debts, and begin to pay taxes, while hiring new workers and reducing unemployment for the first time in years. With more money in Russians' pockets, consumer demand stabilized. The resolution of the 1998 crisis laid the foundations for Russia's economic recovery in the 2000s.

For the US, the most pressing issue with Russia continued to be the negotiation of an umbrella agreement on cooperation in dual-use technologies, which DoD has been pursuing since 1994. Negotiations began in earnest in November 1997, after Russia agreed to consider a U.S. draft. Subsequent negotiations between the two sides have proceeded through meetings and exchanges of drafts in March, May and October 1998. DoD anticipates that an agreement will help build the body of law within Russia to facilitate appropriate technology transfer. On the other hand, Russia appeared to intend to use the agreement to control and regulate technology transfers. A final round of discussions was planned for early March 1999, with the goal of concluding an agreement that can be addressed during the Gore Primakov Commission meeting scheduled for late March.

Maintaining his stance on defending Russian interests abroad, on March 24, 1999, Primakov canceled his scheduled visit to the United States when he found out that NATO had begun a bombing campaign of Yugoslavia, turning his plane around over the ocean, a maneuver which has since been nicknamed 'Primakov's loop.'

Russian military power seemed quite hollow in the face of NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia. Prime Minister Yevgeniy Primakov's efforts at counterleverage against the bombing proved initially self-isolating. Yeltsin found little leverage against the West, and it was easy to blame those who had sold the political utility of extended strategic deterrence.

On March 25th the Russian daily, Moscow Kommersant, reported that Yevgeniy Primakov - the same man who had aborted his trip to Washington - had called on Milosevic urgently to sign the political agreement on Kosovo, which had been agreed to at Rambouillet, and told Milosevic that the document was the maximum that Belgrade could hope for.

In May 1999, having served as prime minister for only eight months, Primakov was dismissed by Yeltsin, with Russian analysts describing the move as a political calculation connected with the prime minister's growing popularity, and the upcoming presidential elections scheduled for the following year.

Commenting on Primakov's service as prime minister, Lavrov stated that the politician was "a phenomenon not only in our foreign policy, but in the Russian state, because after he was invited to head the Russian government he made the decisive contribution to overcoming the effects of the 1998 default and crisis. His government patched a large hole and made it possible to restore the country to stability."

The abrupt firing angered Primakov, and he decided to enter politics. He formed a party with then-Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov for the 1999 parliamentary elections. Berezovsky and the Yeltsin family collaborated to thwart him. For example, the oligarch’s TV channel, which had the biggest audience in Russia, aired footage of 70-year-old Primakov undergoing leg surgery — an image intended to suggest that the former intelligence chief was old and infirm. The general message was that Primakov was a Communist sympathiser who would take Russia back to a Soviet- style planned economy and an isolationist foreign policy. Ironically, the men portrayed as the modern, dynamic alternative were Putin and Sergei Shoigu, later Putin’s defence minister.

Following his dismissal, Primakov soon became an advisor and political ally to Vladimir Putin, who became president on January 1, 2000 after Yeltsin's resignation.

In March 2002 a group of independent journalists and a politician with Kremlin connections have won the right to broadcast on one of the country's nation-wide television frequencies. The decision was the latest development in the battle over freedom of the press in Russia. A federal commission decided unanimously to award the broadcast license of TV6 to Media-Socium. The organization is composed of a group of journalists who teamed with former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov in a bid for the channel.

TV6 was pulled off the air in January 2002 after a minority shareholder asked a court to close the station, saying it was losing money. But many in Russia said it was simply an attempt by the Kremlin to silence the country's last remaining nation-wide independent television station. Thirteen groups bid for the TV6 frequency including a group put together by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. But the Media-Socium bid, put together by journalists who used to work at TV6 and by former Prime Minister Primakov, was widely viewed as having the inside track to winning the auction.

The veteran politician also continued his diplomatic work, becoming the president's special representative to Iraq in the lead-up to the Iraq War in 2003. Speaking to Saddam Hussein, Primakov attempted to convince the Iraqi leader to hand over all of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction to the UN, thus hoping to avoid a US invasion. Primakov also continued his academic work as a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Primakov died in Moscow after protracted illness, Primakov was survived by his wife Irina and daughter Nana, losing his first wife, Laura Kharadze, who died of heart disease in 1987, and his son Alexander, who died of a heart attack at age 27 in 1981. The veteran journalist, diplomat and politician spoke Russian, Arabic, English, and Georgian.

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Page last modified: 22-04-2016 19:17:36 ZULU