The first time I ever heard of him was in 1987. I was a subscriber to Pravda in those days and my eye was caught by a short piece entitled “A New Philosophy of Foreign Policy”. Well, said I, that’s something interesting to find in the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the CPSU. Don’t we already have in the writings of Marx, Lenin and company all the philosophy of foreign policy that anyone would ever need? As good then as it is today and will be tomorrow? Certainly no need for anything new.
Clearly something was going on.
So I read it and it was indeed “new”. As I recall I saw that it made the following points. Soviet foreign policy had won it no real friends, but many enemies. This had led to ever-increasing arms production which was severely hurting the Soviet economy. I wrote a paper on it (And, so help me, it’s apparently in the Hoover Library, or so Mr Google informs me.) Primakov’s piece was one of the two things that convinced me that the USSR was really changing.
So, right back then, Primakov was part of the team that was changing the whole thing.
(By the way, this may outrage people, but I believe that without the Gorbachev reforms, the USSR was heading to real disaster – they say that Viktor Grishin nearly was the choice for General Secretary. Think about it).
Then we come to the Yeltsin succession. I had not realised, until I read Graham Stack’s “Enemy Within: Declassified U.S. Documents Show Russian Oligarchs Supported NATO Expansion”, how important a role Primakov had played in countering Berezovskiy’s scheming and in the selection – which I’m here to tell you was quite unexpected by us Western Russia watchers – of the obscure VV Putin as Prime Minister.
And, in today’s crises, the whole world should be grateful that such a cool and thoughtful man as Putin (and his well-chosen team) is handling things.
So, I believe that the peoples of the former USSR, Russians and the rest of us owe something to Yevgeniy Primakov. I hope in his last days he took satisfaction from what he had achieved.