On September 11, 1998, the Russian State Duma approved President Boris Yeltsin's choice of Evgeny Primakov as Prime Minister by a vote of 317 out of 450. The Duma's action came in the wake of the August 17 devaluation of the ruble, the dismissal of former Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko and his government, and the Duma's failure to approve Yeltsin's choice of Viktor Chernomyrdin.
Primakov used his first month in office to shape his new government and draft the semblance of a crisis management program to address the country's serious financial problems. His choices prove him to be a master of compromise: His Cabinet members represent every major political faction in the Duma, and his economic proposals are designed to please both the left and the right.
Primakov is wary of the United States and has been a consistent opponent of U.S. international leadership. During the recent missile crisis with Iraq, for example, he resisted U.S. military retaliation against Saddam Hussein. Exactly how Primakov's government will affect U.S.-Russian relations may be uncertain, but its policies clearly could have a major impact on U.S. national interests.
Primakov and most of his Cabinet officials built their political careers in the former Communist regime. A former senior Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) nomenklatura member and former member of the CPSU's ruling body, the Politburo, he managed to survive when President Boris Yeltsin took over. He was appointed head of the Russian foreign intelligence service in 1991. and became Foreign Minister in January 1996.
Primakov has challenged America's global leadership role by promoting "multipolarity" and opposing NATO enlargement. Yet he is too pragmatic to allow Russian-U.S. relations to deteriorate dramatically. He might even pressure the State Duma into ratifying the START II Treaty, believing it to be in Russia's national interest. But this would not signal an end to Russia's flirtation with anti-American regimes.
Most of Primakov's deputies were high-ranking CPSU officials in the 1970s and 1980s when the U.S.S.R. was suffering economic decline. They represent a generation of Russian history plagued by stagnation and economic morass, and are unlikely to adjust their economic philosophies to the reality of a developing market.
First Deputy Premier Yuri Maslyukov, the top Deputy Prime Minister and the government's chief economic executive, built his career largely within the huge Soviet military-industrial complex. Maslyukov will supervise macroeconomics, the military-industrial complex, and the arms trade. He is Russia's chief representative for talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), despite his Communist background and lack of experience in negotiating financial issues. His counterparts are unlikely to give him much credence.
Deputy Premier Gennady Kulik is in charge of agriculture. A Communist-allied Agrarian Party member, he was a CPSU apparatchik. He opposes private ownership of land and will pursue protectionist policies to shield the agricultural sector from foreign competition, which could mean an end to chicken imports from the United States.
Finance Minister Mikhail Zadornov seems as foreign to Primakov's government as do his political record and views on economic policy. He never held a significant position in the Soviet nomenklatura. In 1990, he coauthored a free-market reform program rejected by CPSU conservatives. Zadornov is likely to proceed with financial reform, but his freedom to maneuver will be restricted, and he will be subject to pressures from First Deputy Premier Maslyukov.
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov is a career diplomat with no political ambitions. He served at the Russian Embassy in Spain and was the Ambassador there in later years. He is expected to follow Primakov's concept of foreign policy, rarely making independent moves--which will allow Primakov to mastermind Russia's foreign policy.
Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, ex-commander of Russia's Strategic Rocket Forces, has retained his ministerial portfolio. A professional military man, he has launched serious military reforms which have encountered strong resistance from the generals.
Primakov's Cabinet selected may have been specifically to avoid alienating influential political and economic groups, such as international financial institutions and the powerful oligarchs. It may also be the political base to launch a Primakov for resident campaign in the near future. Overall,Primakov's government is more likely to restrict economic freedom and strengthen its involvement in the economic system than to concentrate on opening markets and increasing their competitiveness.
But failure to pursue free-market reforms could aggravate the social and economic situation within the Russian Federation. Separatist tendencies could increase, hastening Russia's dissolution into poorly governed regions and jeopardizing thecentralized command and control of nuclear weapons, making them easy prey for unpredictable local leaders, criminals, or terrorist groups. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction could expand even more rapidly than feared. Any such developments would seriously affect U.S. national interests.
Washington should make it clear that it will help Russia through its current difficulties only if Primakov's government demonstrates its commitment to free-market and democratic reforms. It also should insist that Russia's government concentrate on fighting crime and corruption, continue legal and court reforms, respect the property and rights of American investors, and institute tougher measures to ensure nuclear safety and the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Without such assurances, U.S. relations with Russia inevitably will be fragile.
Evgueni Volk, Ph.D., is Coordinator of The Heritage Foundation's Moscow Office.