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Tuesday, October 27, 1998 Published at 11:48 GMT

Primakov: The great survivor

Primakov does not have presidential ambitions

Yevgeny Primakov, a former Soviet apparatchik and one-time spymaster, has earned a reputation as a hawk in his dealings with the West.

A Middle East expert, he is a friend of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, but also has a good working relationship with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Mr Primakov, 68, made his name on the international stage when he went to Baghdad to try and avert the Gulf War after the invasion of Kuwait.

[ image: Primakov was a Gorbachev protege]
Primakov was a Gorbachev protege
He also played a key part in the prevention of hostilities between the American-led allies and Iraq earlier this year.

Mr Primakov is the sole member of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's inner sanctum to have survived at the top of the new Russian state.

He 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.

Mr Primakov, who speaks Arabic and English and is a fan of the spy novelist John le Carre, was named foreign minister in January 1996.

He has been praised by most of Russia's political factions for doing a good job.

[ image: Primakov - respected international negotiator]
Primakov - respected international negotiator
BBC correspondent Alan Little says Mr Primakov was the only member of the current cabinet ''who who could point to any real achievements''.

At home Mr Primakov is known 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.

Cold War hawk

Born in Kiev in October 1929, Mr Primakov began his lengthy 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.

Unlike most of Mr Gorbachev's allies, he managed to remain in the government after the Soviet collapse.

[ image: Viktor Chernomyrdin praised Primakov as ''a professional'']
Viktor Chernomyrdin praised Primakov as ''a professional''
Earlier this year he used his influence to block US strikes on Baghdad which had been threatened as punishment for hindering UN weapons inspections.

He first got to know Saddam Hussein during his stint as Middle East correspondent for the Communist party newspaper Pravda in the 1960s.

His stance made him unpopular in the United States, where many in the State Department still regard him as a Cold War hawk. Some say his laconic speaking style and tinted spectacles have not helped this image.

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

His pro-Arab stance has won him support in the Middle East, notably in Jordan, Syria and Iraq, with the result that Moscow's ties with Israel remain strained.

Doubts over economic expertise

But while Mr Primakov may be a competent administrator, he has little experience of forging economic policy.

"Primakov may be a good negotiator at the United Nations, but he's not a manager, someone who could take the country in hand during a crisis," said Sergei Parkhomenko, editor of the respected news magazine Itogi.

Thierry Malleret, chief economist at Alfa Capital in Moscow, said: "Primakov is not an economist, so everything will depend on the people he appoints.

"It surprises me in the sense that the Americans might be shocked - he is known as a hawk. It shows that political considerations are more important than economic ones right now.''

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