Vitaly Naumkin, Vice-President for Research at the Institute of Oriental Studies, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and member of the Russia – Islamic Group, shared his memories of Evgeny Primakov and impressions of the Primakov Readings forum in an exclusive interview to the RIW Group website’s editor-in-chief, Ekaterina Podkolzina.

– Mr. Naumkin, you knew Mr. Primakov personally. What memories of him could you share with us?

I knew him very well and I have worked with him a lot. He has always added a personal touch to his working relations with other people, including his subordinates. I have never seen anyone doing it since. He would always ask you how life is and where you have any needs. He used to help people. He had an extraordinary amount of friends. He would struck you as an outstanding personality amid what was a predominantly boring party mass. I was impressed to see someone with a great political acumen and, even more, his visionary capability. Most of us cannot do it, people prefer to look back. Primakov belonged to the few that are forward-looking. He would always talk about projections and prospects.

But he was also bold in challenging many theories or established views. He would take fairly bold decisions including those that not many people would like. Take the story when he made a U-turn over the Atlantic Ocean effectively cancelling his trip to the US. He was criticized for that, and Boris Yeltsin got angry. But he was not afraid to take decisions like this.

But again, what fascinated me most was his personality and his unique ability to sustain personal relations with other people including his ideological and political opponents. For instance, he got along with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. They would call up each other or even meet and have a chat. But he also knew how to be a tough negotiator, mediator and broker. We worked together during the Dartmouth Conference over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I learned a lot from him. He knew how to find a solution, reach a compromise, offer an unorthodox deal. He also realized that Oriental studies is an area that always stands firm on its feet. It was important to have him near because he understood that diplomacy in the Middle East is a delicate matter. Mr. Primakov was an excellent manager who could unite those who were impossible to bring together including people of divergent political affiliations.

  • Today you spoke at the New Great Game in the Middle East session. What does your presence at the Primakov Readings mean to you?

It is a great privilege. It is a very well organized event. I come here every year and will continue to come as long as they invite me. To my mind, this year the conference is every more impressive than what we had last year.