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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President Applauds Primakov's Policy Line

With a meeting of the Group of Seven leading industrial nations approaching, President Boris Yeltsin on Tuesday backed Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov's policies, saying that Russia should not "lie down beneath America."

The president's vote of confidence provided further evidence that Primakov, whose policies have often clashed with those of Western nations, has weathered the recent government crisis with his position at the head of Russia's foreign policy establishment intact.

During a visit to the Foreign Ministry, Yeltsin gave Primakov, 69, the Order for Service to the Fatherland, Second Class -- the highest decoration that can go to people other than the president. It was the first time Yeltsin had been to the Stalin Gothic skyscraper on Smolenskaya Ploshchad since 1992, when the more pro-Western Andrei Kozyrev was foreign minister.

The foreign minister presented Yeltsin with the ministry's top award, the Medal of Gorchakov.

Primakov has squared off with the West for opposing sanctions against Serbia for its treatment of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, and for supporting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in his conflicts with the United States.

In his speech to diplomats, Yeltsin said Russia needed to maintain good relations with the United States, but that the euphoria of the period immediately after the 1991 Soviet collapse was over.

"After a period of certain illusions and exaggerated expectations, Russia is developing an equal relationship with the United States," Yeltsin said.

He said Russia "should not lie down beneath America," an earthy turn of phrase that moved the Izvestia newspaper to say that "it was as if Boris Nikolayevich was speaking not in a diplomatic auditorium, but at a collective farm rally."

Yeltsin's statements come as the U.S. government has offered the Russian president glowing praise in the runup to the G-7 meeting this weekend in Birmingham, England.

On Monday, U.S. President Bill Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, said that Yeltsin "made a gamble and won" when he suddenly dismissed his Cabinet in March, launching the country into a monthlong government crisis. Berger said that the new prime minister, Sergei Kiriyenko, had formed "probably the most reformist government in seven years of Russian democracy," The Associated Press reported.

Clinton and Yeltsin are to meet this Sunday after the summit of the G-7, which Russia expects to join as a full-fledged member. In his interview on the Internet on Tuesday, Yeltsin said he had asked Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto to allow Russia to host a G-8 summit in 2000. The meeting is presently planned to take place in Japan.

"If Mr. Hashimoto, my highly regarded friend, conceded the year 2000 to Russia and took 2001 instead, ... I would be very grateful to my friend and indeed to all the others who would back this proposition," Yeltsin said.

In his speech at the foreign ministry, the president reiterated Russia's stance in favor of a multi-polar world where no one superpower dominates: "The time has come to understand that in the present-day world, particularly in the 21st century, no state, however strong, can impose its will on others."

Yeltsin also said that the Commonwealth of Independent States, the loosely-knit successor to the Soviet Union "was not living up to its potential." A recent CIS summit in Moscow failed to produce any significant agreements, and the organization remains deeply divided, with non-Russian states saying Russia is trying to play too strong a role.

Alexander Pikayev, a foreign policy and national security expert at the Moscow Carnegie Center, said Primakov had bolstered his standing in the Kremlin by brokering a deal that defused the crisis over Iraq's refusal to grant full access to UN inspectors looking for weapons of mass destruction.

While seeking to maintain good relations with the United States, Primakov has sought to counterbalance American influence in the Middle East and in relations with China. Russia and the United States have also clashed over Russia's relations with Iraq and Iran, considered outlaw states by the American government.

Primakov, said Pikayev, "is a symbol of the consensus on Russia's foreign policy which is shared by Communists as well as liberal deputies in the Duma." Yeltsin will need to draw on the foreign minister's credibility in the parliament if he wants to win ratification of the START II arms control treaty, said Pikayev: "Under current conditions, Primakov is the only person who could promote this treaty in the legislature."

Yeltsin on Tuesday urged the quick ratification of START II, which has been bogged down in the State Duma, or lower house of parliament. The treaty, signed in 1993 and ratified by the United State Senate in 1996, would reduce the number of nuclear warheads on each side to 3,500.

Concerns among opposition deputies that the treaty would leave Russia at a disadvantage would then be addressed in a START III treaty, "which will help achieve a complete balance in relations with the United States," Yeltsin was quoted as saying by Interfax.Pikayev said former spymaster Primakov's chief rivals, Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky and CIS envoy Ivan Rybkin, are not in a position to challenge him, Yastrzhembsky because he has considerable power and daily access to Yeltsin in his current position, Rybkin because he is viewed as too close to politically-active billionaire Boris Berezovsky.

After Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin was fired by Yeltsin on March 23, Primakov succeeded in persuading Yeltsin and new Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko to give responsibility for CIS affairs to the Foreign Ministry. Rybkin's position has been left undefined for now.