Gloves off as enigmatic Primakov squares up to West

Policing Saddam

The United States will not have been surprised by Russia's condemnation of its attack on Iraq, but it may well have been startled by the strong language used by Yevgeny Primakov, Moscow's Foreign Minister. The assaults were "a very dangerous situation" which could have "catastrophic consequences", he said.

They could even lead to "anarchy" on the world scene. This does not sound like the Mr Primakov that the Western world has come to know since he left his office as Moscow's chief spy master and took over from Andrei Kozyrev.

In nearly eight months in office, he has established a reputation for coolness and restraint. Now, clearly, the gloves are off.

The Iraqi question is one that Mr Primakov can claim to know well, and with justification. He has been involved with the Middle East for 30 years, as a journalist, an academic, a spy- master, and a diplomat. Such is his knowledge of the territory - he speaks Arabic - that Mikhail Gorbachev dispatched him to Iraq before the Gulf war in an effort to mediate with Saddam Hussein. Russia has big strategic interests at stake in Iraq - including hopes for oil and gas deals - but Mr Primakov also has a personal involvement.

The initial reaction of the West when this enigmatic man took over the Foreign Ministry veered between disappointment and dismay.

His curriculum vitae was that of a man who had manoeuvred cleverly to the top through all the right jobs. He owed his rise to his skill at adjusting to the prevailing political winds, quietly occupying the centre ground under Brezhnev, becoming more liberal under Mr Gorbachev, and more conservative under Boris Yeltsin.

Such is his political flexibility that it was believed he would have remained in office had the Communist, Gennady Zyuganov, beaten Mr Yeltsin in July's election. But Mr Primakov's four years in command of the foreign intelligence apparatus fuelled Western suspicions that he would turn out to be more hostile than his predecessor.

Detecting a nationalist mood in the country as he limbered up for an election campaign, Mr Yeltsin had sacked Mr Kozyrev because many Russians considered him to be too accommodating to the West. Mr Primakov was careful to ensure that the public noticed the change of guard. He talked of Russia restoring its "great-power" status - a buzzword with the nationalists. And he spoke of the Arab world occupying a "considerable place" on Russia's foreign-policy map.

Since then the rumblings of disapproval in the West have died down. There have been no dramatic foreign-policy lurches,although tension remains on several fronts - notably, Nato expansion into East Europe, on which Mr Primakov is showing signs of softening. Yesterday Mr Primakov, after meeting his German counterpart, Klaus Kinkel, in Bonn, insisted Moscow's opposition was unchanged but committed himself to formalising Russia's relationship with Nato. This was the stance of a man with whom the West thinks it can work. His views of the US interference with Iraq are a different matter.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project