President Boris Yeltsin went on Russian Television this morning to urge support for his candidate for prime minister, acting Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov. (BBC, September 11) Primakov is expected to win approval when the State Duma votes on his nomination later today. He already has the support of the leaders of six of the Duma’s seven factions. His approval will break the logjam that has paralyzed Russian politics for three weeks and brought the country to the brink of disintegration. Primakov is seen as conciliator. Whereas the Communist Party, which dominates the Duma, refused to accept Yeltsin’s earlier nomination of Viktor Chernomyrdin because it wanted to prevent Chernomyrdin from establishing himself in a commanding position to bid for the presidency in 2000, its members have no such fears about Primakov. At 68, Primakov is even older than Yeltsin. Although he belonged to the CPSU for thirty-two years and was, in the Gorbachev years, a member of its Politburo, he has no ties to any of today’s political parties and movements. He has no known ambition to become president. He did not even want to be prime minister. He is not, therefore, seen as a threat by any of those currently jostling for position in the presidential stakes.
Primakov is likely to be approved because he is seen, as Gorbachev’s former spokesman Gennady Gerasimov said yesterday, as “a man for all seasons”–a compromise candidate perceived as all things to all men. (BBC, September 10) Gerasimov described Primakov as reform-oriented: a product of that foreign intelligence branch of the KGB which fostered Yuri Andropov, the would-be economic reformer–not of that internal security branch of the KGB which produced Andropov, the scourge of the dissidents. The hope is that Primakov’s lack of presidential ambitions will enable him in the coming months to take the tough decisions necessary to dig Russia out of its financial crisis because he will not be afraid of making himself unpopular.
Primakov’s weakness is his lack of economic expertise. Everything will depend on the team he chooses. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said yesterday that Primakov may appoint Yuri Maslyukov, Communist Duma member and last head of USSR Gosplan, as first deputy prime minister, and return Viktor Gerashchenko, famously described by Harvard’s Jeffrey Sachs as “the world’s worst central banker” because of his fondness for printing money, to the chairmanship of the Central Bank. First Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov is tipped to step into Primakov’s shoes at the foreign ministry. Primakov is expected to leave the existing defense, security and interior ministers in place but, Yastrzhembsky said, former Security Council Secretary Andrei Kokoshin may join the government in an unspecified post. Yeltsin unexpectedly removed Kokoshin from his post yesterday “in connection with his transfer to other work”. (Russian agencies, September 10) [See second story following.]
The appointments of Maslyukov and Gerashchenko would not inspire international confidence. Given that the Communist-dominated Duma still has to vote on Primakov’s candidacy, Yastrzhembsky may have been playing safe in his predictions. Many observers hope that Primakov will also invite reformers into his cabinet–in particular, Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, who first proposed Primakov’s candidacy at last week’s roundtable meeting. Quizzed on Russian Television last night, Yavlinsky declined to speculate whether he would be a member of the government but did say that he was ready to talk “very seriously” with Primakov, whom he described as “a man of dialogue”. (ORT, September 10)
PRIMAKOV THE DIPLOMAT: A MIXED BAG FOR THE WEST.