Newspaper article International New York Times

Yevgeny M. Primakov, 85, Former Prime Minister of Russia

Newspaper article International New York Times

Yevgeny M. Primakov, 85, Former Prime Minister of Russia

Article excerpt

Mr. Primakov was the country's first post-Soviet spymaster and for decades the Kremlin's top expert on Middle Eastern affairs.

Yevgeny M. Primakov, a former prime minister of Russia, the country's first post-Soviet spymaster and for decades the Kremlin's top expert on Middle Eastern affairs, has died, state news agencies said on Friday. He was 85.

The agencies did not say when or where he died or provide the cause of death.

With hooded eyes and a gravelly voice, Mr. Primakov struck an image of the archetypal Soviet diplomat and intelligence operative. He was well known to kings, dictators and revolutionaries throughout the Middle East.

But as he rose to more senior positions in the post-Soviet Russian government, his sly sense of humor, sharp intellect and willingness to stand up to the United States made him popular in domestic politics. For a time, he was seen as a possible successor to President Boris N. Yeltsin.

In this way, his career and popularity foreshadowed the success of another veteran of the Soviet intelligence services turned politician, Vladimir V. Putin.

On Friday, Mr. Putin's spokesman, Dmitry S. Peskov, said the president saw Mr. Primakov as "a statesman, a scholar and a politician who has left an enormous legacy."

Russian television broadcasts warmly recalled how Mr. Primakov had presided over a turning point, literally, in Russian-American relations. Heading to the United States for talks in March 1999, Mr. Primakov, who was prime minister then, turned his government plane around over the Atlantic Ocean after learning that the United States was about to begin its military intervention in Kosovo.

Mr. Primakov said he would not talk to the Americans while bombs were falling.

Russia's foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said on Friday that Mr. Primakov had "made an invaluable contribution to formulating the fundamentals of Russia's foreign policy," including, "above all, the independent, self-sufficient course of the Russian Federation. …

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