Monday, June 27, 2016

Primakov Offers Five Lessons Today’s Russian Leaders Aren’t Following, Bordyugov and Rybakov Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 27 – Yevgeny Primakov died a year ago and most remarkably has continued to be treated as an unalloyed positive way in Russia. That sets him apart from almost all other Moscow figures of the last 30 years and suggests that his approach has some important lessons for current Russian leaders, according to Gennady Bordyugov and Aleksandr Rybakov.

            Writing in “Tribuna,” the head of the International Association of Researchers on Russian Society and the advisor to the Moscow Center for International Trade list five such lessons, the result of their work compiling a ten-volume collection of Primakov’s works (

            Primakov’s first lesson, they suggest, is that it is not only necessary but possible for those in senior posts to “follow the same moral norms that are obligatory for everyone else.”  Such officials are not exempt from those norms as some PR and political technology types now often suggest. Russians felt that was true of Primakov; they do not see the same in others.

            His second lesson, the two analysts say, is that Primakov never had a permanent suite of followers who moved with him as he advanced from one position to another. Instead, he shifted “like a knight” alone and only then formed a team from those on the staff of the organizations and structures he headed.

            According to Bordyugov and Rybakov, only “the weak and those lacking in self-confidence” need to have staffs who go with them wherever they do.  “The strong and independent,” they suggest, “do not need such entourages.” Instead, they are accustomed to forming them anew and taking responsibility as a result.

            Primakov’s third lesson is that “everywhere he turned up, he intentionally began to assemble around himself those who agreed with them or to make those who didn’t earlier into his supporters.” That ensured that he was part of the structure he headed and trusted as such rather than an outsider who brought his senior staff and imposed himself and them on it.

            That approach had a further advantage: it ensured the formation and maintenance of “a social consensus on vitally important issues of the development of the country, and that in turn means a method of gaining the trust of the population.” Primakov did so; more recent Russian leaders have not behaved in the same way or gained the same level of trust.

            Primakov’s fourth lesson is that “a politician of high rank is required to be far-sighted and precise.”  That means he is cautious and careful and acts only after reflection thus not creating problems that could have been avoided and that he is then forced to return to in order to solve.

            And Primakov’s fifth lesson, Bordyugov and Rybakov argue, lies in the real meaning of what many now call the Primakov Doctrine.  Many say that it means extracting the maximum useful for Russia out of any situation.  But in fact, the two analysts say, it means much more than that rather banal idea.

            Yes, they write, Primakov certainly believed in extracting maximum advantage, but he also believed that it was absolutely necessary to do so by taking into consideration the interests of partners, the balance of forces in any particular place, and the creation or maintenance of “a parity of interests of the leading world players.”

            “Primakov knew,” Bordyugov and Rybakov write, “that with concessions and compromises it is possible to achieve a great deal. He understood that the interests of the country will only really be secured” when one approaches issues carefully and does not behave “like a bull in a china shop.”

            And they conclude with obvious regret and some hope: “How useful it would be if even a small part of the experience of this Primakov diplomacy were to be absorbed and adopted by those who now, by their clumsy actions, create for [Russia] problems and then try heroically to overcome them!”

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