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Wednesday, May 12, 1999 Published at 10:41 GMT 11:41 UK

World: Europe

Primakov: From spymaster to prime minister

Mr Primakov was Russia's fourth Prime Minister in just over a year

In the stormy world of Russian politics Yevgeny Primakov lasted little more than eight months as prime minister.

His dismissal by President Boris Yeltsin came suddenly, but followed weeks of speculation over a rift between prime minister and president.

[ image:  ]
It plunges Russia into yet another political crisis, just when commentators say there were signs it was recovering from the last one.

At home Mr Primakov's time as prime minister saw him rise to become one of Russia's most popular and trusted politicians.

Russia crisis
Throughout his recent political career he developed a reputation as a careful pragmatist, but he is also considered independent: he was almost the only member of Mr Yeltsin's team to oppose the decision to begin a war against the rebel republic of Chechnya in 1994.

Mr Primakov became prime minister in the wake of the Russian economic crisis in August last year, presented as a compromise candidate, acceptable to the nationalists and communists who make up the majority of Russian MPs.

He took the post with some reluctance. Six months into the job, he said he must have been crazy to take it: "People ask, is it madness or bravery? I suspect it is more madness than bravery."

Mr Primakov's power grew as President Yeltsin ceded day-to-day control of the economy to his prime minister when ill- health pushed him into the background.

High-flying career

A former Soviet apparatchik and one-time spymaster, Mr Primakov first came to international prominence when he went to Baghdad to try and avert the Gulf War after the invasion of Kuwait.

A Middle East expert, he managed to pull-off the delicate diplomatic balancing act of being a friend of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein whilst maintaining a good working relationship with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

He has also led Russia's opposition to Nato's expansion into eastern Europe and opposed Washington's use of force to punish those it suspects of supporting terrorism.

More recently he headed early Russian efforts to broker a deal with Belgrade over the Kosovo crisis. His replacement by Russia's official envoy, Viktor Chernomyrdin, was widely seen in Moscow as a snub to the popular Mr Primakov, who is believed to harbour presidential ambitions.

[ image: Primakov - respected international negotiator]
Primakov - respected international negotiator
Yevgeny Primakov is an old Soviet career diplomat who became head of the Federal Security Service which replaced the KGB after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A fan of the spy novelist John le Carre, he was named foreign minister in January 1996, the sole member of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's inner sanctum to have survived at the top of the Russian state.

Born in Kiev in October 1929, Mr Primakov began his career in 1956 as deputy head of the state committee for radio and television, a propaganda unit.

He was a member of the Soviet Communist Party for more than 30 years and in 1989 -1990 was an alternate member of the politburo.

Mr Gorbachev picked Mr Primakov as one of his closest aides during the reform period of the 1980s.

In 1990 he became Mr Gorbachev's special advisor for foreign policy issues and in 1991 became known for his efforts to avert the Gulf War.

His closeness to the Iraqi regime and opposition to on-going British and American strikes on the country made him unpopular in Washington, where many in the State Department regarded him as a Cold War hawk.

Some say his laconic speaking style and tinted spectacles have not helped this image.

Success as premier

Though Mr Primakov may have been a competent administrator and diplomat, there were doubts at the time of his appointment as prime minister over whether he had experience of forging economic policy, and he was criticised for being an unwilling reformer.

[ image: Viktor Chernomyrdin praised Primakov as ''a professional'']
Viktor Chernomyrdin praised Primakov as ''a professional''
But even critics have acknowledged that he has succeeded in stabilising Russia politically and economically after last year's financial crisis.

He is also seen as having managed to forge a degree of consensus in Russian politics - enjoying the support of the Communist-dominated parliament - and he gained respect for his efforts to crack down on corruption.

Polls have shown that Mr Primakov would be a top candidate to succeed President Yeltsin if he decided to run in next year's scheduled election.

But as his influence has mounted, so has President Yeltsin's increasingly thinly-veiled hostility towards his premier.

On several occasions the president has made clear he was displeased with the workings of Primakov's cabinet.

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