Yevgeniy Primakov, former Prime Minister of Russia, released his new book, A World without Russia? Where short-sighted political thinking can lead. There was a 90-minute presentation to a packed editorial office of Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper, with barely room for the ministers, members of parliament, chief editors and political scientists, not to mention reporters, who crowded into the room.
There's a simple explanation for the interest in Primakov's books: he's not only an academic analyst but also a direct participant in some of the key events in international politics of the last two decades, including many behind-the-scenes episodes.
In Russia analysts don't often reach the top posts in government, but Primakov has at various times headed up two academic institutions (in the fields of oriental studies and the world economy) - which allows us to speak of him as a Russian Kissinger.
This is the ex-premier who in 1998 turned his plane back while on his way to the USA when he heard that Nato had started bombing Serbia, and people are expecting that he will explain some of the most intriguing mysteries of modern times, from the collapse of the USSR to the wars in Iraq and Kosovo.
Academician Primakov begins his analysis of relations between post-Soviet Russia and the West by refuting a widely held assumption: that Russia lost the Cold War - a myth, and a mistaken myth, not least because Moscow succeeded in retaining its nuclear capabilities.
Nevertheless, this myth had a substantial influence on politics: Russia was written off as a great power, and the USA started to treat it in the same way as it treated Jamaica. Primakov calls all this "political short-sightedness".
On the whole, the author believes, the stereotypes born in the days of confrontation have survived the actual Cold War and the "present-day suspicions of Russia are based on attitudes that formed during the Cold War". Primakov admits that this "also happens in Russian public opinion with regard to the USA and its European allies".
He hopes that the election of Barack Obama will see these stereotypes defeated, as the new US President has dissociated himself from the neo-conservatives.
There was particular interest in Primakov's views on the current economic crisis: it was under his leadership that the Russian government withstood the 1998 crisis and laid the groundwork for subsequent economic growth.
In view of the fact that the ex-premier is a well known supporter of state involvement into the economy, RN asked Primakov to give his forecast of the sustainability of measures many governments are now taking to regulate their economies. "I have read that many Western countries have seen a sharp rise in sales of Karl Marx's Das Kapital. I have a high opinion of this scholar's works, but I certainly do not think the need for state regulation that has arisen during this crisis means that the world is sliding into socialism. The economy can be regulated by the market, or by the state. It seems to me that both these mechanisms are compatible in a market economy... However, it's a matter of proportions, and these are adjustable. We must not idolise the market regulators, although this does not mean at all that we should reject them. We must not belittle the role of the state in regulating the economy."I don't think there will be radical changes. But the need for greater control over big business activity is obvious, both in the West and in Russia."
Born in Kiev, Ukraine, 1929. Graduated from Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies. Started journalistic career. Later became a leading Soviet Orientalist. Close aide to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1980s. Foreign Intelligence Service director, head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was Prime Minister. Currently heads the Russian Chamber of Commerce.
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