Primakov, Yevgeny Maksimovich

(1929– )
   Politician and diplomat. Born on 29 October 1929 in Kiev to parents of purported Jewish origin (his original family name has been reported as either Finkelstein or Kirschenblatt), he grew up in Tbilisi, Georgia. He received his degree from the Moscow State Institute of Oriental Studies in 1953. A fluent Arab speaker, he worked for Pravda> in various Arab countries during the 1960s, ultimately cultivating personal relationships with Muammar Gaddafi, Yasser Arafat, and Hafez alAssad, among others. He returned to Moscow to take up a career in academe, leading the Institute for World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO).
   Primakov exercised significant influence over Soviet relations with the Middle East and South Asia in the 1970s, including providing the authoritative ideological justification for the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. A reformer under Mikhail Gorbachev, he quietly worked to reorient the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics’ (USSR) foreign relations. He assumed the leadership of the KGB shortly before the dissolution of the USSR, overseeing the department’s transition to Russian control; he served as director of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) until 1996 when he replaced Andrey Kozyrev as the country’s chief diplomat.
   As foreign minister (1996–1998) and prime minister (1998–1999), Primakov was the highest-ranking anti-Western politician during the Yeltsin administration. Under his leadership, he oversaw Russia’s “turn to the East,” which involved strengthening relations with China, Japan, and ASEAN countries to counterbalance American power. As part of his drive to end unipolarity in world politics, he also advocated the eventual creation of a “strategic triangle” linking India, China, and Russia in areas of mutual interest. This shift in foreign policy was subsequently labeled the Primakov Doctrine; his nascent development of a multidirectional foreign policy for Moscow continued under the Putin administration.
   Domestically, he was known for his desire to reduce the complexity of Russia’s regional structure and to rein in the power of the presidents of the ethnic republics. He lost his job as prime minister during the tense period of United States–Russian relations stemming from the 1999 North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) bombing campaign in Kosovo. Given his popularity, determination to take on the oligarchs, and strong anti-Western orientation, he was considered the front-runner to replace Boris Yeltsin as president before the security services, military, and other vital factions of the establishment rallied around Yeltsin’s hand-picked successor, Vladimir Putin. He abandoned the race shortly before the election and soon became an ally of the new president. In 2001, he became the president of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Reprising his role as a personal mediator between Saddam Hussein and the outside world prior to the first Gulf War, he returned to Iraq in 2003 in an unsuccessful bid to avert the U.S.-led invasion of the country.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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