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Yevgeny Primakov to Head the Intelligence Service?

Why Not...

I don't need just any kind of loyalty. I need the kind of

loyalty when people kiss my ass in broad daylight and

exclaim: smells like roses.


Lyndon Johnson, President of the USA


The news of Ye. Primakov's appointment to the post of foreign intelligence chief caused many to wonder. Another blooper of an appointment by M.Gorbachev - that's what some people thought. My impression is different, though. On the contrary, I feel the urge to say that the man belongs in this position. Let me prove it.


 The legend is remarkable. The man advanced from bright college student to the rank of Academician and beyond without halting once or even once “spinning his wheels”, while enhancing the system's well-being all along. Can you imagine the kind of fine schoolwork needed in an ideological college (oriental studies institute, the Arabic department) to open for one the heaven's gate to a career in a socialist system? Next thing, our hero is already a correspondent of “Pravda”, the number one Soviet newspaper, in the Near East. After this traineeship abroad, he moves under the roof of the Institute of the World Economy and International Relations (“IMEMO”) of the USSR Academy of Science, headed at the time by Academician Nikolai Inozemtzev. For some reason Inozemtzev grew fond of Primakov and started promoting him rapidly, eventually making him an Academician by the age of 50 - an extremely rare occurrence in the field of social science. In order to earn this rank at that time, a “mezhdunarodnik” (expert in international relations) had to defend the interests of socialism very forcefully against imperialism - American imperialism in the first place. That was the minimal requirement; the maximal one is still shrouded in mystery. That same Inozemtzev procured for him the position of Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the USSR Academy of Science. There is no point in discussing his scholarly contributions, since the title of Academician, in social sciences at least, had no relation to science proper. The decisive factor was membership in a powerful clan within the system of the Academy of Science.     

One such clan was headed by Inozemtzev, who was a member of the Central Committee of the CPSU and an advisor to Brezhnev on international issues. The support of this kind of person was more than enough to become an Academician. There is, however, the unclear matter of Primakov's doctoral dissertation. A former Learned Secretary of IMEMO (who used to be, by the way, one of our intelligence men in China and in the USA) told me that initially Primakov and his friend Igor Belyayev (the Near East correspondent of “Literaturnaya Gazeta”) were intending to defend one dissertation between the two of them. This aroused resentment among the Institute's workers. So Primakov became the single defendant. But no one knows where the defense was held - and whether indeed it was held at all. At least when I needed this dissertation once in order to determine the level of scientific thought to keep in mind while preparing my own doctoral dissertation, I couldn't find it anywhere. Perhaps my search was conducted poorly and in the wrong place. Anyway, this is all peanuts. Weirder things happened during the socialist era.


 Well then: after the start of perestroika, like most leading “mezhdunarodniki”, Primakov placed his bet on M.Gorbachev. Thus a dizzying political career was launched. Sometime in early 1986, Primakov returned to IMEMO to take the position of Director, vacated by Alexander Yakovlev. A place on the party list of the “sotniki” ("100") made him a People's Deputy of the USSR, subsequently a member of the Supreme Council and soon afterwards the Chairman of the Union Council. In 1989, in one of the plenums of the CPSU Central Committee he was elected, together with Boris Pugo, a candidate member of the Politburo. Subsequently Primakov was a member of all sorts of councils and committees created by Gorbachev. Finally he gets the post of head of Soviet intelligence. It should be noted that in the course of these career moves, Primakov managed to stay a full length ahead of that famous ace in the sphere of international relations - Academician Georgi Arbatov; however, he also stayed a half-length behind Academician Alexander Yakovlev.         

 On first thought, it seems strange that Yakovlev and Arbatov were excluded from Gorbachev's inner circle, while Primakov became very close to the President. Another circumstance catches the eye: while the former two were under constant attack from the conservative Communists and the military, Primakov avoided this ordeal, getting but a few prickles from the left.    

 This is all really logical and natural.


 Unlike the true reformers who cast their lot with the democratic changes in the country and were shedding painfully the illusions of the “socialist choice”, Primakov is neither a reformer nor a democrat. Rather than choosing the ideas of social renovation, he cast his lot with a concrete character: Mikhail Gorbachev. He is a loyal servant to this person, swerving together with him now to the left, now to the right. Following Gorbachev, for a long time he dared not doubt “the leading role of the CPSU in our society”, defended the “single-party system” and treated perestroika “within the framework of socialism” (see his presentations made during the XIX CPSU Conference). Primakov never was a dissident kind of leader; he always followed unflinchingly the political zigzags of Mikhail Gorbachev. This course of action earned him the bosses' good graces and many rewards. It is conceivable that he, too, renounced the Party and socialism for the sole reason that the “socialist forces” became fully discredited after the coup attempt. From then on, the preferred course of action was to defend state interests regardless of any corporate or group attitudes (see “Izvestiya”, 1 October 1991). Presently socialism is no longer something that gives power. Primakov is with those who hold power. He is a pragmatist: to him, power is higher than ideas and ideologies. I remember being amused when I learned that Primakov had been appointed chairman of the anti-privilege committee. What is power for if there are no privileges?


 Evidently Mikhail Gorbachev was quick to appreciate Primakov's deftness in the art of behind-the-scenes diplomacy. It was by no accident that no other than Primakov was sent to Baku to try and settle the brewing conflict there; strangely enough, there followed in Baku a fearful bloodbath. It was him that Gorbachev sent to the Near East; the democratic press evaluated this visit as an attempt to rescue Saddam Hussein. Another failure: the war in the Gulf did erupt after all. So the results of Primakov's backstage diplomacy were negative, yet the fact itself is important: he was the man habitually tapped for behind-the-scenes dealings.


 It is worth noting that Primakov's activities are connected, for some reason, with the support of anti-democratic forces - whether in Baku or in Iraq. However, he managed to avoid being linked, at least in public, with the events in Lithuania in January of this year. Still, the syndrome of socialism persists in the Academician's mentality; most likely this is because he gave so much of himself to ensure the triumph of socialism. The reason is, I think, that the President himself, by all appearances, hasn't overcome this syndrome himself to this day. It is no accident that Gorbachev's entourage lately (before the coup) consisted mostly of Communist fighters, believers in the “socialist choice” which they intended to force on society following the coup. This didn't work out in domestic policies (as yet), but the chief intelligence man still has a chance to revive the “socialist ideal” abroad, since foreign intelligence is still aimed mostly at combating the “imperialist countries”. And, of course, ties to the agency with the odious (in our day) name of “KGB” are a brand of sorts, an award of eternal shame from the system. Joining it means making a step sideways from the career path. The post of intelligence chief, on the contrary, is an advancement.

By the way, the appointment of our hero to this very important position was handled in a typically socialist manner: the candidacy wasn't discussed in parliament, like they do in the USA, for instance.

Another manifestation of the socialist mentality is this: once you've made it to the top, it matters not what exactly you are head of: an Institute, ethnic relations policymaking, the intelligence service. The important thing is to avoid being implicated in a putsch.


Having branched off from the KGB, heading a brand new structure, Primakov seems to have managed to do the President himself one better. He is no longer speaking from behind a broad back; for the very first time we hear the intelligence chief speak for himself, saying that he now intends to “defend the interests of the state, rather than serve some political structure or certain personalities” (“Izvestiya”, 1.X.91). Personalities come and go, while the state stays on, thank God... (Knock on wood). Protecting the state's external borders is a noble task under any regime. Perhaps this is the Academician's destiny: to stay in power under all regimes, like Mikoyan; perhaps even more than that - he is destined to wield power over the regime?            As for the intelligence service, I'm not worried. I am certain that it will soon undergo a process of reform. Most likely, the professionals will be replaced with “analysts” and “synthesizers”. After all, intelligence “is a science too”. Therefore every scholar is an intelligence worker. And scholars we have in plenty, so there will be no shortage of manpower.

 Oleg Arin (Rafik Aliev)

Doctor of Science (History)

"Vladivostok" (Vladivostok), November 1, 1991, p.3.

 COMMENT BY “V”   The author told us that this article had been prepared especially for the newspaper “Komsomolskaya Pravda”. However, at the last possible moment the “K.P.” dropped the publication. The editor-in-chief cited his concern for the author's fate as his motivation for the refusal. “Most likely, the editor-in-chief is worried about his own future,” said Rafik Aliev and sent the article to the editorial office of the newspaper “Vladivostok”.            

Since the journalists of “V” are too engaged in “intelligence work” of sorts, for the benefit of their readers, and the author is engaged in science, we hope that this material about the chief of the Soviet intelligence service will cause no harm either to the author or to the editors.