The Clinton administration is downplaying the implications for already troubled US-Russian relations should Yevgeny Primakov be ratified as Russian prime minister today.
"Obviously, the United States knows and respects the [acting] Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov," White House spokesman Mike McCurry said yesterday.
One US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, insists that under Mr. Primakov as foreign minister, there have been major areas of cooperation between the United States and Russia, such as implementation of the Dayton peace accords on Bosnia-Herzegovina.
He points to an agreement at last week's Clinton-Yeltsin summit to work for a diplomatic resolution to the conflict in Yugoslavia's southern Kosovo province. He also cites Russia's support Wednesday for a US-British-sponsored suspension of periodic reviews of sanctions on Iraq in response to its latest defiance of United Nations weapons inspections.
"I don't think we would characterize Russian foreign policy as one that has always been at odds with our own," he says. "There is a lot more cooperation in the whole landscape."
What is most important, he says, is whether Primakov would heed US-led calls for Russia to persevere in enacting Western-style economic reforms as it grapples with its crushing economic woes.
"I think we are stressing in any set of scenarios the importance of the Russian government focusing on the tasks at hand and taking immediate credible steps to arrest the economic crisis," he says.
But other experts are profoundly wary of Primakov.
Peter Reddaway, a Russian expert at George Washington University in Washington, says Primakov may be able to use his connections as a former senior official of the Soviet secret police, the KGB, to work with the Communist-led opposition to restore political calm. But, says Professor Reddaway, he lacks the expertise in economics to address Russia's massive financial woes.