Vladimir Putin Yevgeny Primakov
Yevgeny Primakov with Russian president Vladimir Putin in 2003Reuters

Ukraine-born former Russian prime minister Yevgeny Primakov has died aged 85 in Moscow.

President Vladimir Putin expressed his deep condolences to the family of the statesman who held several government posts throughout his long political career.

"He was a statesman, a scholar, a politician and has left behind him a huge legacy," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Primakov was born in Kiev when it was part of the Soviet Union in 1929 and was raised in the capital of another former soviet nation, Tbilisi, in Georgia.

A journalist in his younger years, he later became an academic in international relations, eventually entering the political world as the USSR was crumbling in 1989.

A Middle East expert, he served under Mikhail Gorbachev as special envoy to Iraq.

He was appointed foreign minister in 1996 and later briefly held the office of prime minister from September 1998 to May 1999.

Widely tipped to succeed to Boris Yeltsin as president in 1999 he pulled out of the race after it became clear Putin had gathered more support.

He worked closely with the new president, firstly as Iraq envoy and then as president of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, an office he left in 2011.