Washington, July 2 (RFE/RL) -- In his latest statement,
Boris Yeltsin's Security Council Chief Aleksandr Lebed has declared
himself a candidate for a position that does not exist: vice
president of the Russian Federation.
Speaking on Moscow television on Saturday, the former general said
that he wanted to be Yeltsin's vice president and to take
responsibility for such tough problems as Chechnya.
In other remarks in the same interview, Lebed said he would favor a
coalition government including everyone from Vladimir Zhirinovsky's
nationalists to Gennady Zyuganov's communists.
The last person to fill the office of Russian vice president was
Aleksandr Rutskoy. He was removed from that post after he led the
Supreme Soviet revolt against Yeltsin in October 1993. In the
constitution approved two months after that, the position of vice
president was eliminated.
Lebed's latest remark, coming on top of his proclamation last week
of Russian superiority in all things and his attack on various
religious groups, inevitably recalls the behaviour of Rutskoy three
years ago. Even more, it highlights some eery parallels between the
Both Lebed and Rutskoy were popular generals whom Yeltsin added to
his team in order to gain the support of Russians looking for tough
measures against crime and corruption.
Both were initially thought by many in Russia and the West to be the
quintessential political outsiders, capable of being the brooms who
could sweep away corruption and win support for Yeltsin's reforms.
And both quickly demonstrated that they were both ambitious and
incautious, frequently making statements that highlighted their own
limited natures and forming alliances with some of the very worst
people in the Russian political spectrum.
Ultimately, Rutskoy became the standard bearer not of the man who
chose him as his running mate but of precisely those groups --
old-line communists and hard-line nationalists -- who hated
everything his boss was about.
And in October 1993, it was Rutskoy who led the October 1993 Supreme
Soviet revolt against Yeltsin and Yeltsin's decision to disband
prorogue the Supreme Soviet, a holdover from the days of the USSR.
Even if he wanted to, Lebed would seem to have little opportunity to go as far as Rutskoy did three years ago, but tragically his
trajectory up to now seems all too similar. For one reason, the
parallels between the two men do not extend to the end. Rutskoy was
the constitutionally enshrined vice president; Lebed is merely the
head of the Security Council, a position which he occupies only as
long as Yeltsin wants him there.
Further, Russian politics today is more institutionalized than it
was in 1993, and the possibilities for a repetition of the events of
1993 are much reduced. Under the current constitution, the president
is much stronger and the parliament much weaker than was the case
three years ago.
And even the chance that Lebed might launch some serious power grab in the Kremlin is probably remote. In addition to the general's own incautious remarks, Lebed has demonstrated that he lacks the kind of political skills that Kremlin infighting would seem to require.
One person who should be in the best position to know -- Aleksandr
Rutskoy -- has already reached a conclusion about that. In a radio
interview following Lebed's interview, Rutskoy said that Lebed "won't
get anywhere. He will fight neither corruption nor crime, and will
not carry out army reform either."
"I've been down that road," Russia's last vice president said, "and
I know very well the workings of the Kremlin kitchen."