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Igor Ivanov

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Updated: 04.12.2003

Acting foreign minister of Russia, appointed by Boris Yeltsin in 1998, succeeding Yevgeny Primakov. Born in 1945.

Igor Ivanov, known for his suave defence of Russian interests abroad, is loath to call himself an influential European. Influential, surely; European, definitely not. Ivanov, who inherited the Foreign Ministry from Yevgeny Primakov, may wear custom-tailored Milanese suits and have spent nearly 15 years in Madrid first as a trade representative and then ambassador, but his thinking is thoroughly, proudly, defiantly, Russian.

Few officials in Moscow railed so vociferously against NATO's action in Yugoslavia as an example of the alliance's hostile intentions. Throughout the air strikes Ivanov kept the anti-NATO torch lit, only to be humiliated by his own side when the military brass by-passed him to dispatch Russian paratroopers to the Pristina airport as part of the international peacekeeping force.

Ivanov called the surprise deployment "a mistake" and vowed that the troops would soon be removed. But the troops stayed put and Ivanov was forced into an unseemly climb-down. Still, given the turmoil of Russian politics, he has emerged as a worthy negotiating partner for the West.

While his anti-NATO rhetoric boosted his domestic rating, Ivanov is still a somewhat unorthodox choice to head the Foreign Ministry. He did not graduate from the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations, the old Soviet training ground of elite diplomatic cadres. Instead, he studied Spanish and English at the more prosaic Maurice Thorez Language Institute in Moscow. But while there, he met Primakov, then the Institute's deputy director. Ivanov, colleagues report, learned under Primakov's tutelage - and climbed under his patronage.

Ivanov slipped into the Foreign Ministry in 1973 as a trade representative in the Madrid mission. In his first decade in Spain, he distinguished himself as a rare species in Russia - a Soviet workaholic. He returned to Moscow in 1983, only to be dispatched again to Madrid in 1991, this time as ambassador.

Courtly, if staid, Ivanov has developed a working rapport with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and has proved adept in talks with the Europeans. "He's a welcome relief," said a German diplomat in Moscow. "With Primakov, we never quite knew where we stood. With Ivanov, you may not like where you stand - but you certainly know where you are."

To Ivanov, Kosovo shook the foundations of post-cold war East-West relations. The war against Yugoslavia was not just a minor squabble easily assuaged by IMF credits and conciliatory expressions of gratitude from Western capitals for Moscow's part in winning Slobodan Milosevic's concessions.

As for the EU's and NATO's eastward push, Ivanov at every opportunity chants the party line that NATO must not seduce any former Soviet republics. Russia may be resigned to the Balts entering the EU, but NATO remains off limits. Russia, however, can no longer, as Ivanov said recently, "just tell people what to do." And he also knows well that momentum is an ineluctable force.

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