Yeltsin's choice of spy chief shows anti-West shift

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The Independent Online

Europe Editor

President Boris Yeltsin yesterday appointed Vyacheslav Trubnikov, a career intelligence officer with a background in Asian affairs, as the head of Russia's foreign espionage service. Mr Trubnikov, 51, replaces Yevgeny Primakov, who was named on Tuesday as Foreign Minister in succession to Andrei Kozyrev.

Mr Trubnikov was previously first deputy director of the Foreign Intelligence Service, which came into existence after the former Soviet KGB security police was divided into domestic and foreign sections in 1991. The promotion of Mr Trubnikov, who received many state decorations in the Soviet era, suggests Mr Yeltsin and Mr Primakov have full faith in his loyalty as well as his talents.

"I looked at him and realised he was a highly skilled professional, respected by his colleagues," Mr Yeltsin told Russian reporters.

According to the few publicly available details of his career, Mr Trubnikov was born in the Siberian city of Irkutsk, moved to Moscow as a child, graduated from a leading institute in Oriental affairs and joined the KGB in 1967 when he was in his early twenties. He is said to have been based in the 1970s in India, where he was registered as a journalist, and in the 1980s he returned there and also worked in Bangladesh.

The Itar-Tass news agency said the new spy chief liked to spend his leisure time reading, listening to music and watching films. To those with memories of Yuri Andropov, the late Soviet leader and a former KGB boss, this attempt to add a human dimension to Mr Trubnikov's curriculum vitae recalled the effort of Soviet officials in late 1982 to portray Mr Andropov to Westerners as a jazz-loving admirer of good whisky.

Mr Trubnikov's appointment means the Russian foreign ministry and espionage service are now controlled by men who, in contrast to Mr Kozyrev, have no particular track record of pro-Western politics. Mr Primakov's main area of expertise is the Middle East, and together with Mr Trubnikov he can be expected to make an effort to strengthen Russia's position in that region as well as in China, India and other non-Western countries.

Mr Primakov's move to the foreign ministry won applause yesterday from Mr Yeltsin's Communist and nationalist opponents in parliament, who rarely have much good to say about the President's foreign policies. The Communist leader, Gennady Zyuganov, called Mr Primakov "an experienced and skilled statesman", and the ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky praised the appointment as "the best possible choice".

Both men detested what they saw as Mr Kozyrev's bowing and scraping to Western governments and evidently hope that Mr Primakov will be a more stubborn defender of Russian interests. Mr Yeltsin dropped a hint yesterday that he sympathised with this view, saying of Mr Kozyrev: "Our policy in Yugoslavia wasn't very clear. The balance between East and West wasn't preserved."

Although Russia is unlikely to lurch to wholly anti-Western policies, Mr Trubnikov recently indicated that under certain circumstances he would consider Nato still to be an enemy. Speaking at a ceremony marking the anniversary of the Soviet security services, he said: "If Nato does not find a way to transform itself and adapt to the new political realities of the post-Cold War era, it will of course remain a hostile force for us."

Mr Yeltsin has made his personnel changes less than a month after the Communist Party defeated pro-Westerners in Russia's parliamentary elections. Although the President appears keen to stick to his economic reforms, his latest appointments suggest foreign policy may move to a line more acceptable to the Communist opposition.