Publication: Prism Volume: 2 Issue: 2

A Man from the Soviet Apparat to Guide Russia’s Foreign Policy

by Volodymyr Zviglyanich

On January 9, Yeltsin nominated his chief spy master, Yevgeny Primakov, a former journalist and academic, to be Russia’s new foreign minister, signifying the more assertive and nationalistic stance the Kremlin has adopted toward the West. Why did Kozyrev resign and what does the appointment of Primakov mean?

Reasons of Kozyrev’s resignation

Andrei Kozyrev, the son of a Soviet career diplomat, was born in Brussels and served all his working life in first the Soviet and then the Russian Foreign Ministry. He was the only person from Yeltsin’s initial team of liberal "Young Turks" to remain in office and was rightly considered to be a political survivor.

But was Kozyrev really a liberal-democrat or did his activities simply coincide with Russia’s post-totalitarian democratic euphoria? Jim Hoagland asserts on January 14 in The Washington Post, that Kozyrev was "loyal, imaginative, a true friend and admirer of Western democracies," who energetically dismantled Soviet cold war diplomacy and the links of empire. The author obviously forgot Kozyrev’s 1992 speech in Stockholm in which he presented to the stunned international diplomatic community the outlines of a confrontational Russian foreign policy which appears on the verge of being adopted in 1996. At the time, Kozyrev’s speech, later disowned as a parody, was deemed an eccentricity of Moscow’s enfant terrible rather than as a prediction of forthcoming changes in Russian foreign policy. At a time when the triumph of a full-fledged market democracy in Russia was fancied to be only months away, the mere thought that the KGB’s successors would soon be in a position to take over foreign policy planning seemed to be ridiculous.

On December 14, 1992 at the session of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) in Stockholm Kozyrev announced some changes in concept of the Russian foreign policy. They consisted of three points:

The first was that "preserving on the whole the policy towards integration with Europe, we realize that our traditions… come mostly from Asia, which establishes certain limits on the rapprochement with Western Europe."

The second was that "the territory of the former Soviet Union cannot be regarded as a zone of full application of CSCE norms… this is post-imperial territory where Russia will have to defend its interest by using all available means including military and economic ones. We will firmly insist that former Soviet republics… join a new federation or confederation."

The third point stressed that as a great power, Russia "can stand up for itself and its friends." (1) An hour later, Kozyrev disavowed all that he had said earlier and delivered a speech on increasing the role of CSCE in Europe.

As events have shown, however, Russia’s foreign policy after Kozyrev’s notorious speech in Stockholm became more and more assertive and chauvinist, and Russia finished 1995 with the two basic ideas that guide its foreign policy presently:

a) "no" to NATO expansion eastward, and

b) "yes" to the reintegration of the former Soviet empire.

Both ideas were developed by the Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia. Kozyrev simply acted as a diligent and cautious mouthpiece rather than as a liberal-minded foreign policy reformer endowed with the right to carry out foreign policy independent of his government, i.e. something hitherto unimaginable in Russia. Why was he sacked then?

The reasons for his resignation are as follows:

1) Kozyrev’s activities reflected the whole cycle of Russia’s evolution from the contrived democracy and multicentrism of 1991-92 to the full-fledged "great power" policy of 1995. He performed his function — laid down the foundation of Russia’s new assertiveness — and appeared outdated;

2) He was criticized by the Russian Duma for Moscow’s loss of superpower status, for Russia’s "sell-out" to the West, and for Russia’s alleged failure to support the Serbs in Bosnia. But this criticism was more a matter of personal antipathy than of essence. Pavel Grachev was criticized by the Duma with almost the same vigor but nevertheless survived;

3) Kozyrev resigned only with Yeltsin’s approval and after it became clear that the Duma would be dominated by the "red-browns" — the main opponents of Kozyrev. Fearing that they would push forward their own candidature, Yeltsin decided to strike first and selected the head of foreign intelligence assuming that the traditional deterence of the Communists and nationalists to the "organs" would help him to obtain the necessary parliamentary approval for his appointment to this position.

Primakov and the West

Yevgeny Primakov, born in 1929, was a candidate member of the Soviet Politburo in the 1980’s (as was Yeltsin when he was the Moscow party boss in the mid-1980’s). He was a Pravda correspondent for the Arab world and headed the Soviet Academy of Sciences Institute for Oriental Studies and then the Institute for the World Economy and International Relations. Together with the former director of the Institute of the U.S. and Canada, Georgii Arbatov, he was in charge of Soviet foreign policy planning for the Middle East. In all these posts, he had close contacts with the former KGB. In 1988 he was made chairman of the Supreme Soviet in charge of national policy. Later, Gorbachev made him a key member of his presidential council. As Gorbachev’s special envoy to the Middle East, Primakov met several times with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad after the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Primakov worked primarily to serve Saddam’s interests and to maintain Moscow’s old influence in Iraq and the Middle East. Since then he has traveled to Iraq at least once, to negotiate the sale of nuclear power plant components with Saddam, a deal that can take effect only after international sanctions on Iraq are lifted.

Primakov was appointed the Soviet Union’s espionage chief by Gorbachev in 1991 and he separated the Soviet Foreign Intelligence Service from the security police, promising to turn it into an elite professional intelligence agency. Primakov vowed to put a stop to the practice of sending Soviet agents abroad under journalistic cover. Since 1994 he has initiated establishment of departments of the CIS countries in Russia’s embassies.

Primakov is viewed as a pragmatist, neither particularly friendly nor hostile to the West. He is likely to stick closely to Yeltsin’s line on foreign policy, which has grown steadily more nationalistic and wary of the West in the last few years. In this capacity he is notorious for preparation of the two conceptual documents. The first, entitled "Russia-CIS: Will the Policy of the West Change" released on September 20, 1994, proclaimed "objective" the tendency of the former Soviet republics for reintegration and warned the West against trying to confound it. The second one, Yeltsin’s Edict No. 940 of September 14, 1995 entitled "Strategic Course of Russia with the Countries — Members of the CIS," Russia openly proclaimed its hegemonistic role in the region.

Primakov was the last Russian Foreign Intelligence Chief to be in charge of the Russian super-mole inside the CIA, Aldrich Ames, who allegedly caused billions of dollars in damages to the American budget and the deaths of at least ten Russian agents working for the CIA.

The appointment of Primakov contains at least a double message to the West.

It, first of all, suggests that Yeltsin is determined to shore up his shaky domestic base before June’s presidential election and that Yeltsin will devote no energy in this election year to improving Moscow’s relations with Washington or the major European powers. Shortly after his appointment, Primakov said that "Despite her current difficulties, Russia was and remains a great power. Her foreign policy must reflect that status." This means a search for "fundamental countermeasures" by Russia both in Eastern Europe and in the CIS in case of NATO’s expansion.

It also signifies that Primakov is likely to be a transitional political figure who agreed to the position primarily to rid himself of a situation in which he was the successor to Feliks Dzerzhinsky, Lavrentii Beria, and Yuri Andropov — all long-time chiefs of the Russian secret police. Any possible successor to Yeltsin after the June election would most likely change Primakov with his own loyalist.

Primakov and Ukraine

In his new capacity Primakov will try to revive Moscow’s relations with former Soviet states and allies. Chief among them will be the former Soviet republics, especially the Baltic states and Ukraine. Primakov said during his first press conference, that the "strengthening of integrationist tendencies within the former Soviet Union" would be one of his primary goals.

However, Primakov does not have enough time to perform such a global task. He could try to exert further economic pressure on Ukraine to compel its involvement in the CIS’s supranational bodies such as the Interparliamentary Assembly, the Customs Union, and a System of Collective Security on the basis of the Treaty on Mutual Security of the CIS countries of May 15, 1992.

Primakov’s Foreign Ministry could also promote the program of Russia’s penetration of the Ukrainian media (both TV and radio), education, and book markets. The major task will be the "protection of the rights of the Russians (Rossiyan)" in Ukraine (especially in Crimea and the Donbass area) as well as the use of the economic hardships in Ukraine in order to purchase economic objects of strategic significance (pipelines, energy storage facilities, etc.) on its territory. However, one should not expect dramatic changes in the Russia-Ukrainian relations: the primary goal of Primakov will be the promotion of Western support for Yeltsin (or his possible successor) during the forthcoming election. Ukraine therefore has a real chance to use this breathing spell for her own benefit.


1. Kozyrev Delivers “Shock” Speech, FBIS-Sov-92-241, December 15, 1992, pp. 7-8.

Volodymyr Zviglyanich is a professor at George Washington University.