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Tuesday, March 30, 1999 Published at 13:25 GMT 14:25 UK

Primakov: Man in the middle

Primakov with President Boris Yeltsin

Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov is no stranger to last minute attempts to broker peace.

Russia has close ties with Serbia and is said to have a good working relationship with the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosovic. Mr Primakov is seen as independent of US pressure and has led Russia's opposition to NATO's expansion into eastern Europe.

[ image: Primakov - respected international negotiator]
Primakov - respected international negotiator
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.

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 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.

Allan Little reports on Russia's view of the Kosovo crisis
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.

[ image: Primakov was a Gorbachev protege]
Primakov was a Gorbachev protege
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.

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.

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.

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