The Kremlin scrambled yesterday to deny a newspaper report that Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov has submitted his resignation and will soon be leaving his post. The report, which appeared in Moskovskie novosti under the byline of Sergei Agafonov, suggested that the 67-year-old Primakov intended to return to research work and to assume a vice president’s post in the Russian Academy of Sciences. The report also intimated that Primakov may have been driven to retire from the ministry by enemies among the Kremlin’s younger officials — presumably a reference to First Deputy Prime Ministers Anatoly Chubais and Boris Nemtsov. Rumors of Primakov’s imminent departure have been carried of late by other Russian media as well.
Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky categorically denied the rumors of Primakov’s resignation, categorizing them as "complete disinformation." He also suggested that the reports may be aimed at driving a wedge between the Kremlin and the Foreign Ministry, and complained that rumors of this sort are likely to undermine Primakov’s effectiveness as he embarks on a heavy diplomatic schedule this fall. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady Tarasov echoed Yastrzhembsky’s denial that Primakov had submitted his resignation. He also attempted to calm personnel in the Foreign Ministry, who were apparently panicked by the possibility that the ministry is on the eve of a housecleaning. Tarasov and Yastrzhembsky each underlined the fact that Russian president Boris Yeltsin has recently stated his satisfaction with Primakov’s performance and that of the Foreign Ministry as a whole. (Russian news agencies September 16)
Although Tarasov pointed sardonically to the Russian media’s propensity to manufacture rumors about personnel changes, the reports of Primakov’s departure do follow major reshuffles in Russia’s defense and arms export establishments. Similar rumors of Primakov’s departure appeared this past spring, moreover, when there was some evidence of tension between the Kremlin and the foreign minister on Russian policy toward NATO (in the run-up to the May signing of the Russia-NATO Founding Act). Russian media also speculated earlier this year of dissatisfaction in the Kremlin with Primakov’s role in the formulation of Russian policy toward Belarus. For all of that, Primakov has been far less a political liability to Yeltsin than was his predecessor, Andrei Kozyrev, who was accused by the Kremlin’s political opponents of being too pro-Western. Primakov, appointed Foreign Minister in January of 1996 (he had been serving as head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service), has generally enjoyed support from a wide spectrum of Russian political forces.
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