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Western Press Review: Lebed--Prophet Without Honor

  • Don Hill
  • Katarzyna Wysocka



Prague, 10 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Russian National Security Secretary Aleksandr Lebed has found true the Biblical declaration that a prophet goes without honor in his own country. Returning from a triumphant session with NATO leaders in Brussels, he confronts political turmoil in Moscow that is, if anything, more roiled than ever. Commentators in the Western press, including Lebed himself, examined this state of affairs.

LONDON TIMES: The game in Moscow is 'Get Lebed'

The paper editorializes today: "Aleksandr Lebed has returned from NATO to a chorus of recriminations in Moscow. Politicians, newspaper editorials and television commentators remarked acidly that he had failed to make clear Russia's opposition to NATO enlargement, that he preferred to impress his hosts than defend his country's interests and that he was seduced by the glitter and sparkle of his first visit to the West. The fact that the former general made a good impression in Brussels has only given an edge to such carpings. The battle for Mr. Yeltsin's succession now has begun in earnest. And the name of the game in Moscow is -- Get Lebed."

The Times concludes: "As an outsider, Mr. Lebed presents a challenge to entrenched interests that already have attempted to link him to corruption scandals. The gravel-voiced general may find the political terrain as rough as the military campaigns in Moldova and Chechnya."

BALTIMORE SUN: Is the U.S. prepared to go to war for Poland?

The paper said yesterday in an editorial: "Russia's concerns about an expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe ought to be taken seriously, not least because the United States and its allies are a long way from hard decisions on how this should be done and whether Moscow's security imperatives can be accommodated."

The Sun said: "Russia shifts between hard-line and soft-line opposition to NATO enlargement because it is in the ambiguous position of maintaining a superpower's nuclear arsenal at the same time it has become a basket case highly dependent on Western aid. Thus its security chief, General Aleksandr Lebed, warned that alliance expansion 'would take us back to hostility' before consulting this week with NATO Secretary General Javier Solana. After his talks, he took a more fatalistic stance, saying, 'Whatever NATO decides, Russia is not going to go into hysterics.' "

The editorial concluded: "Precisely a year ago, The Sun asked whether the United States 'is prepared to go to war for Poland, whether it would unleash nuclear weapons on behalf of Hungary, whether it would provide the funds required for a NATO enlargement and, finally, whether its security lies in friendly or hostile relations with the only nation on Earth that can still blow this country to smithereens.' No answers have emerged."

LONDON GUARDIAN: Military reforms are a priority

Defense correspondent David Fairhall writes today in a news analysis: "The Russian defense minister (General Igor Rodionov) flies into Vladivostok today to confront a growing crisis in his demoralized, often unpaid, armed forces which could end in widespread disintegration, if not outright mutiny. (Elsewhere, National Security Council Secretary) Lebed left NATO headquarters in Brussels yesterday after his first visit to the West, having impressed officials with his approach to the contentious issue of NATO's expansion into Eastern Europe."

Fairhall says: "In response to lobbying by General Lebed and General Rodionov, President Yeltsin has promised to make military reforms a priority."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Few people in Moscow are happy that Lebed surprised the West pleasantly

Christiane Hoffman says in a news-analysis in today's paper: "Probably few people in Moscow are happy that the Russian security chief Lebed has made his first appearance at NATO headquarters in Brussels and surprised the West pleasantly. Neither Lebed's statesmanlike behavior in Brussels nor his moderate remarks concerning NATO eastward enlargement or his critical view of Russian policy to date will make the former general with ambitions for the highest state post more popular in Moscow."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: A Moscow politician gained insight into NATO's structures

In the same newspaper today, Oliver Hoischen comments: "After Lebed's visit in Brussels one can feel the relief at NATO: The guest left a positive impression." Hoischen says: "Members of the NATO staff repeated again and again how constructive the talks with Lebed were, how open, factual and eager for knowledge the Russian acted. Because of Lebed's uncertain authority, there were no negotiations. There was only the gaining of a personal insight into Brussel's structures by an important politician in Moscow."

The writer continues: "It remains uncertain how the relationship between NATO and Russia will develop." Hoischen adds: "NATO insists that enlargement eastward is an open process, and can't ever be declared as finished at any particular time or border (and that) enlargement of the alliance has to be independent of Russia's internal policy."

NEW YORK TIMES: Lebed's stance did not mark a change in the Russian position against enlargement

Steven Erlanger writes in a news analysis in today's edition: "Despite new uncertainties about the possible Russian reaction and the qualms of some NATO allies, the United States is pushing ahead with its plan to bring several former Soviet allies into NATO in 1999." He says: "While American officials are encouraged by the Russian security adviser Alexander Lebed's latest, less hostile public remarks about the coming enlargement of NATO, American officials do not fool themselves that Moscow has suddenly given up on its intermittently strident opposition. And many Western officials say they fear that the frail health of President Boris N. Yeltsin makes the Russian reaction less predictable than ever."

Erlanger writes: "But Lebed's stance in private meetings with NATO officials was harder edged and did not mark any change in the Russian position against enlargement, senior American officials said."

WASHINGTON POST: Lebed says the signing of the Chechen agreement does not mean the conflict is over

In a personal commentary published yesterday, Lebed himself penned a defense of his peace efforts in Chechnya and includes a veiled attack on his detractors. He said: "There have been no hostilities in Chechnya for almost a month now. This is due to the agreements I signed in Khasavyurt, Ingushetia, with the chief of staff of the Chechen opposition forces, Aslan Maskhadov. But it does not mean that the armed conflict is over. The agreements stipulate the signing of two more documents, which we have defined as the framework of relations: on Chechnya's status and on the delineation of powers between Russia and Chechnya."

Lebed declared: "No military leader, no matter his genius, has ever won a war against the people. Such a war must be stopped resolutely with tough measures, and a political dialogue should begin. There is no other solution to this military conflict. That is why I reject all the talk of Russia's integrity and indivisibility. Is it possible to ensure the integrity of Russia by killing hundreds and maiming thousands of people every day? I am often asked if I know who is responsible for this war. Yes, I know all of them by name."

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