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Bowing to Opposition, Yeltsin Appoints Primakov to Top Post

By David Hoffman
The Washington Post

A weakened President Boris Yeltsin Thursday gave in to pressure from the parliamentary opposition and appointed Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov as prime minister, resolving a political crisis but leaving unresolved how Russia will cope with its economic tailspin.

Yeltsin named Primakov, 68, a jowly veteran diplomat and spymaster with close ties in the Arab world, after abandoning Viktor Chernomyrdin, the former prime minister who was twice defeated by the lower house of parliament.

Primakov Thursday offered no public statement of his intentions in the new job. He delivered a speech on foreign policy, but did not comment on his appointment. The Russian news agency Itar-Tass quoted Primakov as telling German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel in a phone call that "Russia would continue its course of reforms."

Primakov immediately drew broad support in the Duma, from the centrist leader Grigory Yavlinksy, and from the Communists, and is expected to win quick approval in parliament on Friday.

The appointment was also a defeat for some of the wealthy Russian tycoons, spearheaded by financier Boris Berezovsky, who had openly tried to install Chernomyrdin as prime minister.

In Washington Thursday, White House press secretary Mike McCurry said, "The United States government knows and respects Foreign Minister Primakov. We would expect to have a good and close working relationship with Prime Minister Primakov."

The appointment came nearly three weeks after Yeltsin fired prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko, leaving Russia politically rudderless, as the economy appeared to spiral out of control.

Primakov has little experience in Russia's turbulent domestic economic battles, but early indications pointed toward a government with a more statist, inward-looking approach than the pro-Western, free-market advocates who have dominated Russian policy.

In a speech in June, Primakov blamed Russia's economic ills on excessive capital flight, an overly heavy dependence on foreign capital, a warped and failed tax system, and the decline in world oil prices coupled with Asia's troubles.

Primakov faces a complex set of problems including a currency crisis, a banking system teetering on collapse, and a loss of confidence both at home and abroad. While it is not yet known how he will propose to deal with each, in the past Primakov has argued for a "Great Russia" approach that emphasizes independence from the West. He has said there was too much emphasis on macroeconomic stabilization and not enough on helping industry.

Primakov was close to the last Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev, and is reportedly turning, in part, to former colleagues from that era.