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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Experts Wary Over Successor To Kozyrev

WASHINGTON -- Former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker's experiences with Yevgeny Primakov vividly illustrate why many in Washington are uneasy about the spy chief's promotion this week to be Russian foreign minister.


Baker, who left office in 1992, found Primakov personable enough when they met in Moscow in early 1990 and did "serious damage" to a half-gallon of potent Georgian vodka at a dinner with then-Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.


But, according to Baker's recently published memoirs, this view soon soured when, as envoy for then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, a skilled and "cunning" Primakov led the unsuccessful Soviet effort to prevent a ground war against Iraq by the U.S-led international coalition.


Primakov, a Middle East specialist who is a "personal friend and apologist for [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein ..., aimed less at getting Saddam out of Kuwait unconditionally than at salvaging the U.S.S.R.'s tattered patron-client relationship with Iraq," Baker wrote.


With this history, many U.S. officials and analysts were shocked Tuesday when President Boris Yeltsin named Primakov, 66, who headed Russia's foreign intelligence service, to succeed Andrei Kozyrev as foreign minister.


Experts say the appointment is a move by Yeltsin to seem more centrist in case he runs for re-election this June.


"I see the appointment very negatively," said Russia expert Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation, a think tank. Primakov "is a one-time KGB officer with a spectacular record of subversive activities in the Third World ... He is the liaison to the regimes of Saddam Hussein and the ayatollahs in Iran and is an advocate of Russian confrontation, not cooperation, with the West in the Middle East," Cohen said.


Primakov is "an old line communist who believes in Russia being a great power and having a lot of influence in the world and maintaining its status as superpower ... but Russia is not in a position to play a major world role," Harvard Professor Richard Pipes said in a telephone interview. Primakov could cause the United States trouble in the Gulf War because Russia was "still a superpower ... but I don't think that is the case today," he said.


Richard Haass, a former Bush adviser now with the Council on Foreign Relations, and Harley Balzar of Georgetown University basically agreed with this analysis. "The appointment is more a reflection than a cause of friction in the U.S.-Russian relationship [which has foundered on] differences over Bosnia, NATO expansion and a sense in Russia that somehow the West has let it down or is out to keep it down," Haass said.


"Like a tax, it will add 5 percent to 10 percent more friction in the relationship but won't fundamentally change it," he added.


?U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher will meet Primakov at a European venue in the first week of February, the U.S. state department said Thursday.


The meeting, ahead of a trip by Christopher to former Yugoslavia, will be the first between the two men since Primakov was appointed on Tuesday, spokesman Nicholas Burns said during a Middle East tour by the secretary of state. He said Christopher had proposed the meeting during an introductory telephone call to Primakov from Israel on Thursday morning.