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Last Updated:  Thursday, 27 February, 2003, 14:58 GMT
Russia's great political survivor

By Stephen Mulvey
BBC News Online

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov
Pundits regularly predict Ivanov's sacking
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has one of the hardest jobs in Moscow, working for a president who runs his own foreign policy with the help of his own advisers.

The hard-working Mr Ivanov is left perpetually trying to catch up with his master, often remaining one step behind.

It has not helped that Russian foreign policy has undergone a major change of direction since Mr Ivanov's appointment under then-President Boris Yeltsin in 1998.

With Kosovo in turmoil, Mr Ivanov soon became Russia's chief denouncer of Nato's air campaign against Yugoslavia.

New US partnership

It was a job he appeared to relish, accusing the West of hypocrisy, cynicism and open contempt for morality.

US soldiers training in Kuwait for possible war in Iraq
Ivanov can still criticise US policy towards Iraq
"In Yugoslavia a double crime is currently being committed - namely, Nato's aggression against a sovereign state, and blatant genocide against the peoples of Yugoslavia," he said in March 1999, calling for those responsible to face the United Nations war crimes tribunal.

But if railing against the West was part of Mr Ivanov's job description under Mr Yeltsin - Nato's expansion plans were another major cause of friction - everything changed with the arrival in the Kremlin of Vladimir Putin.

Russia stopped picking fights it could not win, and began to seek a new partnership with the West - one that was firmly sealed after the 11 September attacks.

Mr Ivanov is still allowed to criticise the US - over policy towards Iraq, for example - and he still occupies the more hawkish end of the Putin government spectrum.

But you will not now hear him accusing Washington of trying to "foist on the world its political, military and economic diktat", or talking of his reluctance to shake the hands of Western leaders, as he did during the Kosovo conflict.

Competitive position

Mr Ivanov was originally appointed foreign minister by Yevgeny Primakov, the foreign minister and former spymaster who Mr Yeltsin made prime minister in September 1998.

1945 born
1973 - 1983 trade representative in Spain
1991 - 1994 Ambassador to Spain
1994 - 1998 Deputy Foreign Minister
1998 appointed Foreign Minister
Throughout the Putin years, from 2000 onwards, pundits have regularly predicted that he would be sacked in the next reshuffle.

He is not much loved by the president's A-team of aides and advisers, many of whom would like his job to go to a youthful parliamentarian, Mikhail Margelov, who already sometimes accompanies Mr Putin on foreign trips.

In seeking to shape Russia's foreign policy, Mr Ivanov has to compete with these advisers, as well as the Defence Ministry, the Security Council and even the crucial oil and gas industry.

But while his position has been uncomfortable under Mr Putin, the low point of his career undoubtedly came earlier, under Mr Yeltsin, when he was dealt the kind of blows that in many countries would have triggered automatic resignation.

Humiliation

First, Mr Ivanov - a veteran of the Dayton peace accords on Bosnia - was abruptly sidelined from Balkan peacemaking when Russia chose as its special envoy the former prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, a tongue-tied man with no diplomatic experience.

Secondly, he was humiliated when, in June 1999, Russian paratroopers dashed into Kosovo and occupied Pristina airport, in violation of international agreements.

Taken by surprise, Mr Ivanov described the move as a "mistake" and promised the troops would be withdrawn, only to find himself overruled by the president himself.

Despite difficulties of this kind, Mr Ivanov has continued loyally plugging away at his job, and the chances are that he will now keep it until the presidential election in early 2004.

Mental stamina

He cuts a suave, if slightly stiff figure, and is said to favour Italian suits, a taste perhaps picked up during 15 years in Madrid first as trade representative and then as ambassador.

Other rumours focus on his mental powers and his stamina.

One says he can memorise documents with almost photographic accuracy.

Another is that that he thinks nothing of holding a four-hour meeting without a break, and regularly works for 14 or 15 hours a day.


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