Primakov the dark horse in premier race

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The Independent Online
THE RUSSIAN Foreign Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, emerged as a front-running candidate for prime minister yesterday should President Boris Yeltsin succumb to opposition demands that he dump Viktor Chernomyrdin.

The stoical but shrewd Mr Primakov has the backing of two important factions in the State Duma, which yesterday threw out Mr Chernomyrdin's nomination for a second time, condemning Russia to a third week of political limbo.

The prospect of the former head of foreign counter-intelligence as premier - a far more powerful position now, given Mr Yeltsin's weakness - is unlikely to win much applause from Western leaders, where he is viewed as a clever, unbending, diplomat who does not hesitate to challenge their interests.

But the liberal Yabloko party and the Communists have indicated they are willing to support him as an alternative to Mr Chernomyrdin in a third, final Duma vote. Grigor Yavlinksy, Yabloko's leader, named the minister as his party's "compromise", in a speech to the Duma. He said Russia needed an authoritative premier, known to the world, unaffiliated to any party and with no ambitions to be president.

Until recently, any suggestion that the hang-dog, enigmatic Mr Primakov was in the running would have been met with dismissive guffaws by Moscow's resurgent army of Kremlinologists. Most of the money was - and much still is - on the swashbuckling mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov. Other possibilities include Yegor Stroyev, chairman of the Federation Council and the outsider, Yuri Maslyukov, the only Communist to serve in the Kiriyenko government.

But Mr Primakov has been untainted by the brawls and endless horse- trading that characterise politics in Moscow. And his credentials appeal to liberal democrats and the left.