Europe

Russia's former PM Yevgeny Primakov dies aged 85

Former Russian prime minister Yevgeny Primakov, leader of the opposition Fatherland-All Russia bloc, gestures on the day of the parliamentary elections in Moscow, Russia, in this file picture taken December 19, 1999. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Yevgeny Primakov died after a prolonged illness, Russian news agencies reported

Yevgeny Primakov, a former Russian prime minister, foreign minister and spy chief, has died at the age of 85.

Mr Primakov died in Moscow after a prolonged illness, Russian news agency Interfax reported.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin had been informed of the former prime minister's death and was "deeply saddened".

Mr Primakov was head of the Russian government for just eight months between September 1998 and May 1999.

Born in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev in 1929, he was brought up in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.

He studied Arabic at the Moscow Institute for Oriental Studies and went on to be a correspondent for state radio and television.

Move into politics

After moving into politics and a stint as the chairman of the Soviet parliament between 1989 and 1990, Mr Primakov played a prominent role in negotiations with Saddam Hussein ahead of the first Gulf War.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, he was appointed head of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and later foreign minister in January 1996.

Then in 1998 he was appointed prime minister by then-president Boris Yeltsin, and was credited with introducing difficult reforms and a degree of stability to a country still reeling from financial crisis.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was "deeply saddened" by Yevgeny Primakov's death

In March 1999, Mr Primakov attempted to prevent Nato strikes against Yugoslavia.

He famously ordered his pilot to turn around midway across the Atlantic while en route to the United States on an official visit, after learning that Washington had decided to launch the air raids. The incident became known as "Primakov's loop".

But Mr Primakov's stint as prime minister was short lived. He was sacked in 1999 by President Boris Yeltsin, who reportedly became fearful of his rising popularity.

Mr Primakov signalled his intention to run in the 2000 presidential election, but dropped out when Kremlin powerbrokers united around Vladimir Putin.

In 2003, he once again travelled to Iraq and met Saddam Hussein in an attempt to prevent war, this time at Mr Putin's request. But three days later a US-led offensive began.

In later life, Mr Primakov headed a business lobby group and was respected as one of Russia's leading elder statesmen.

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