On October 29, 2019, a monument to Russian statesman Yevgeny Primakov was unveiled in Moscow to coincide with the 90th anniversary of his birth. The ceremony was attended by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and Yevgeny Primakov's widow Irina Primakova. The Special Presidential Envoy for International Cultural Cooperation Mikhail Shvydkoi conducted the ceremony.
Yevgeny Primakov was one of Russia's leading experts in oriental studies and a prominent scholar in the fields of global economics and international relations. Mr Primakov served Russia's Prime Minister (1998–1999), Foreign Minister (1996–1998), and Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service (1991–1996).
During the ceremony, Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed Primokov's promotion of the idea of multipolarity, which is dear to the Kremlin. Putin said: "Many people in Russia and around the world remember Yevgeny Primakov and think about him with great respect, warmth and heart-felt gratitude… Personally, I often recall my meetings with Yevgeny Primakov and our frank conversations. He was and remains for me an example of deep, responsible and proactive love of the homeland, an example of generosity, reliability and decency.
"In each period of his full, active life he gave priority to the interests of his country… Yevgeny Primakov's tenure as the Foreign Minister of Russia was a special page in his life. It was largely thanks to his efforts that respect for Russia was revived in international diplomacy and the Foreign Ministry fully affirmed the unconditional priority of national interests and the efforts to uphold them firmly and consistently.
"An Oriental and Arab scholar, Yevgeny Primakov knew that the world is more complicated than any cliché or stereotype. He had a strategic vision and worked hard to promote the idea of multipolarity. In fact, it was Yevgeny Primakov who clearly formulated the key principles of the modern world's development. We see that multipolarity is no longer a trend but a reality today.
"In my opinion, it is symbolic that a monument to Yevgeny Primakov has been erected near the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is our common duty to preserve his legacy and to keep listening to Yevgeny Primakov's voice. I hope that this wonderful monument will help to immortalize this great citizen of Russia."
On the same day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov responded to a question on Channel One's news program, Vremya, apropos the Primakov birthday anniversary.
Responding to a question on Primakov's essential contribution to Russia's foreign policy, Lavrov also underlined that the concept of a multipolar world, as promoted by Primakov, has become an objective reality that is taking shape right before our very own eyes:
"We have been often accused recently of turning away from the West and towards the East. Yevgeny Primakov was appointed foreign minister after we had turned away from everyone excluding the West in the first half of the 1990s. Moreover, we looked upon the West as petitioners asking it to give us a place in the world that was presented as the triumph of liberal democracy and the end of history.
"According to Francis Fukuyama, the end of history meant that the Western world, or the collective West, has no and cannot have any rivals. Yevgeny Primakov assumed office at a time when our relations with nearly all other countries were chilled. He had to act in constrained conditions marked exclusively by pro-Western inertia. As a visionary, he knew that a policy can only be sustainable if it takes modern day realities into account. He predicted the realities of a multipolar world with new centers of economic growth, financial might and, consequently, political influence.
"These centers have appeared. A multipolar world has become an objective reality that is taking shape right before our very own eyes. This historical process will take a long time, but Yevgeny Primakov foretold it at a time when the rise of this reality was not at all obvious to many others. He started implementing this idea by proposing cooperation within the Russia-India-China (RIC) triangle. This format was created and is still effective up to this day. This year, the RIC foreign ministers held their 16th meeting.
"RIC was the forerunner of a more advanced and novel format, BRICS. When five countries from different continents promote common approaches to the global economy and politics, it is the embodiment of multipolarity and multipolar diplomacy. This alone has added Primakov's name to global history.
"Moreover, the foreign policy principles he formulated alongside the concept of multipolarity have since then constituted the basis of Russia's foreign policy concept, including its autumn 2016 edition. These principles imply, first of all, the defense of national interests without resorting to confrontation; pragmatism; and a multidirectional policy, which suggests readiness to cooperate with any country around the world if there is reciprocal willingness based on mutual respect, equality and a balance of interests. These are seemingly simple things, but they really do work. If we rely on these principles, we will attain the result that meets the interests of your state, your country and your nation."
Russian expert Petr Akopov wrote, in the Russian media outlet Vzglyad.ru, that Primakov taught Russia to defend its own interests. He stressed that, in Primakov's geopolitical concept, Russia is an independent center of power and a crucial global player, which out to have its own understanding of the world order and should build a foreign policy based on its own strategy, and not just around opposition to someone else's game.
Below is Akopov's article:
Vladimir Putin congratulates Yevgeny Primakov on his 85th birthday, in 2014. (Source: Kremlin.ru, October 29, 2019)
Funeral ceremony for Yevgeny Primakov in 2015. (Source: Kremlin.ru, June 29, 2019)
Monument to Yevgeny Primakov unveiled in Moscow. Vladimir Putin laid flowers at the monument to Yevgeny Primakov. (Source: Kremlin.ru, October 29, 2019)
It Was Primakov Who Spoke About The Importance Of Creating The Moscow-Delhi-Beijing Axis As A Key Element Of The Future Multipolar World
"The current anniversary of Yevgeny Primakov is the first one to be celebrated without him. The monument, which will be unveiled in Moscow on the occasion of his 90th birthday, means that the country [still] remembers his public services. But it is important to remember his lessons. For example, how it is possible to assert national interests even under the most unfavorable conditions.
"Primakov lived several lives - an orientalist journalist and an analyst, a secret special representative of the Soviet leadership and the head of the secret service, minister of foreign affairs and prime minister. He could have become President of Russia if Vladimir Putin had not appeared.
"Essentially, Primakov became Putin's forerunner in terms of protecting national interests, and he could have become an alternative to Putin, if the real Putin had not been close to Boris Yeltsin in 1999. Prior to the emergence of Putin as Yeltsin's successor, Primakov was considered, by all statesmen in power and by the people, as the best option [to become] the next President [since he was] capable of dealing with the oligarchs, as well as restoring Russia's self-esteem and her position in the global arena.
"After Putin's appearance, Primakov did not run for president office. And not because he was afraid of [oligarch and media baron Boris] Berezovsky's attacks, but because he saw in Putin someone who would do the same things he would have done. Neither Putin nor Primakov were eager to rule, but in 1999 the question was not about personal ambitions, but literally about saving the country.
"It would have been senseless for two statesmen and patriots to fight among themselves - in the main issues they were like-minded and allies. Without Primakov, in a certain sense, there would be no Putin. Because, without the people of the 'Primakov system', who remained in small numbers at the highest levels of the Russian government during the devastating 1990s, it would have been impossible for Putin to emerge at the top.
"Primakov's U-turn over the Atlantic had already occurred during his term as Prime Minister and was a milestone signifying Russia's turn from retreat to resistance. But the foundations of Russia's new foreign policy were laid by Primakov not in 1999, but after January 1996, when he became foreign minister. He prepared what happened in 1999 during less than three years at the Foreign Minister office. And, before that, Primakov was the head of the Foreign Intelligence Service for four years, meaning that he was also engaged in international affairs, albeit in a specific format.
"It is clear that Primakov could not determine [Russia's] foreign policy in the first half of the 90s, when Yeltsin practically did not pay any attention to it, and Foreign Minister Kozyrev acted in the spirit of a liberal mythology pretending that Russia had no national interests.
"But, in the mid-90s, Yeltsin, who knew how to handle the Parliament and tried to bring back Chechnya, began to alter his understanding of relations with the West and about Russia's place in the world. At that point, Yevgeny Primakov was really in demand.
"As the head of the Foreign Ministry, his influence on foreign policy had become tangible. But at first he had at least to stop the destruction of the very diplomatic service and [Russia's] retreat on external fronts. Primakov managed to change the atmosphere and the rhetoric, [something] which was already very important.
"Yes, he could not change the course as such, because that was determined by Boris Yeltsin. Yet, he could seriously influence the president's opinion and amend it, or even formulate president's policy (which he tried to do during his tenure as head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, but, during half his term in intelligence, Yeltsin was distracted by the internal political struggle). At that time Primakov also defined the key goals of Russian geopolitics, which Vladimir Putin had the opportunity to realize.
In Primakov's Geopolitical Concept, Russia Was An Independent Center Of Power And The Most Important Global Player
"He was the first person in authority to talk about the multi-vector nature of Russian foreign policy, essentially abandoning Russia's unilateral and uncontested orientation to the West, which prevailed in the first half of the 1990s. Primakov began to promote the concept of a multipolar world, which inevitably would have replaced the unipolar model that the United States were trying to consolidate. It was Primakov who spoke of the importance of creating the Moscow-Delhi-Beijing axis as a key element of the future multipolar world (which later resulted in the creation of the BRIC group, into which Brazil was also incorporated).
"It was precisely Primakov who, in the mid-90s, formulated a new concept of relations with China, calling them 'relations of an equal trust-based partnership aimed at strategic cooperation in the 21st century.' Absent this foundation, Russian-Chinese ties would not have grown into today's alliance.
"Primakov was an orientalist and a major connoisseur of the Middle East. Moreover, since the 1960s, he had been involved not only in the development of our policy in this area (as an advisor to the highest level), but also in the secret diplomacy in the region.
"He was in contact, in an unofficial but in reality more than authorized way, with a wide variety of forces, from the Kurds to the leadership of Israel. Therefore, Russia's return as an active player in the Middle East is also a Primakov legacy (as well as Russia's turn to the East and to the South and the rejection of Eurocentricity).
"At the same time, Primakov was neither anti-Western nor anti-American. He simply knew very well and saw the essence of European and American politics, and did not evaluate Russia's interests through a primitive 'anti-'prefix. In his geopolitical concept Russia, was an independent center of power and a crucial global player, which should have its own understanding of the world order and should build a foreign policy based on its own strategy, and not just around opposition to someone else's game.
"It is often said about statesmen that, in their affairs or views, they are ahead of their time, but this does not apply to Primakov. Yes, at a time when he was in leading positions, he was hindered not only by the opposition of a considerable part of the then pro-Western and capitulationist domestic elite, but also by the banal [reality] that our country lacked power. That is, on the one hand, the ruling class did not have an understanding of Russia and her interests. And on the other hand, even for those like Primakov, who grasped these interests, the necessary state resources for asserting them were unavailable.
"Russia's problem was not that she did not refocus after the defeat (as formulated after [Russia's defeat in] the Crimean war by Gorchakov – the well-known predecessor of Primakov), the country was shaking through the entire second half of the 1990s. Russia began to concentrate only during the 2000s, in order to move from defense to offense during the 2010s.
"But Primakov was in the right place at the right time. It was he who defined Russia's interests in foreign policy (not to mention his most important role as prime minister in the years 1998-1999). Primakov not only slowed down the collapse and avoided the surrender of positions on geo-political field, he not only defended national interests and defined goals, [but] he managed to do so when the country's capabilities were at their minimum. He was already then convinced that the country's dark times would end and Russia would return to the global arena; he analyzed the future world order and formulated its principles."