Primakov as PM and Yeltsin’s non-successor

When Russia defaulted on its public ruble-denominated bonds and the ruble lost two-thirds of its value to the dollar in August 1998, the Kirienko cabinet also fell. Facing a largely hostile Duma, Yeltsin appointed Yevgeny Primakov prime minister. It was feared the cabinet would push for counter-reform, for a return to a late-Soviet, state-dominated economy.

My impression is that Primakov’s cabinet did not do much at all. The Russian economy started to recover in 1999 without much government or IMF intervention, helped by the cheap ruble and temporarily unused production capacity (if in need of modernizing investment). August 1998 seemed like the end of the world; in May 1999, it looked like the worst was past us.

Meanwhile, Yeltsin was probably thinking of retiring and did not want the old spy Primakov to succeed him. (Eventually he picked for that part a young spy whose name also begins with a P.) Besides, Primakov – two years Yeltsin’s senior – was past 70 so and would have been almost as old when assuming the top office as Konstantin U. Chernenko was in 1984. “Comrade X assumed the post without regaining consciousness,” the standard early to mid-1980s joke went.

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