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Russia: Political In-Fighting Centers Around Lebed

  • Stephanie Baker

Moscow, 11 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- With ailing Russian President Boris Yeltsin preparing for heart surgery, power struggles in the Kremlin are being played out increasingly in the open. Secretary of the Security Council Aleksandr Lebed is currently the main target of political attacks.

The recent charge has been led by Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov. He alleged at a press conference four days ago that Lebed surrounds himself with "criminals" at the Security Council. He also said that one of Lebed's envoys to Chechnya, Sergei Drobush, might have embezzled the equivalent of $1 million from the Russian banking system in 1992.

Last week, Kulikov said in a speech to the State Duma that Lebed's peace plan for Chechnya amounted to a betrayal of Russian national interests and was "humiliating" to Russia. Visiting NATO in Belgium, Lebed brushed aside Kulikov's charges by commenting that "certain statesman bearing personal responsibility (for the Chechen war)...are trying to justify now their impotence."

Lebed and Kulikov have been engaged in a bitter feud ever since Lebed demanded Kulikov's resignation, having blamed him for the Russian military's poor performance in Chechnya.

Three days ago it was the turn of Moscow's mayor, Yury Luzhkov. The forum was a session of the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia's parliament. And the focus was again Lebed's plan for Chechnya. Luzhkov said that Lebed had crafted a peace deal which "places a bomb under the Russian constitution."

The peace accord calls for a withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya and postpones a decision on the breakaway republic's future political status for five years. Critics of the deal see the deferral as a concession to Chechen demands for independence. Lebed is to speak about the plan at a special session of the Duma.

But Luzhkov went further. In an interview with the newspaper "Komsomolskaya Pravda," Luzhkov accused Lebed of running a campaign for the presidency while Yeltsin waits for heart surgery. In the opinion of many, Luzhkov entertains his own presidential ambitions.

Some observers have noted a growing media campaign against Lebed, and claim it is being orchestrated by his opponents in the Kremlin. They say Russia's independent television channel NTV, whose chief Igor Malashenko advised Yeltsin's re-election campaign, has begun openly attacking Lebed in its news programs.

NTV's popular program "Itogi" five days ago aired an interview with Boris Fyodorov, former head of the National Sports Fund, an agency that allegedly earned millions of dollars through the import of duty-free cigarettes and alcohol. In the interview, Fyodorov accused the former head of the presidential security service, Aleksandr Korzhakov, of extorting $40 million from him.

In an unusual move, excerpts of the interview were aired on Russia's state news channel, ORT. Fyodorov this week filed formal charges against Korzhakov. Perhaps coincidentally, the interview was broadcast just a few days after Lebed expressed his support for Korzhakov's plans to run for his old seat in the Duma.

The single, but telling exception in this apparent chorus of Lebed's critics was the leader of the reformist Yabloko bloc, Grigory Yavlinsky. He said at a recent press conference that he supported Lebed's efforts to end the war in Chechnya. But Yavlinsky was also quick to say that he was not considering to form a political alliance with the embattled security chief.

Instead, Yavlinsky used sharp words to condemn the current political jockeying in the Kremlin. He said Russia now had essentially three governments -- one led by Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, one led by Lebed, and one led by presidential chief of staff Anatoly Chubais.

"They are constantly in conflict with one another, and constantly try to redistribute power among themselves," he said.

Alexander Konavalov, an analyst with the Moscow-based USA-Canada Institute, told RFE/RL that Lebed may be now under attack because his rivals may fear his popularity. But he also said Lebed has opened himself up to such attacks by behaving like a presidential candidate.

Konavalov said the attacks were the result of what he called "the inherent contradictions" between Lebed's role as a popular public figure and his limited powers as head of the Security Council.

"Lebed joined the presidential team as a popular politician, bringing with him 11 million votes," he said.

But, he also noted that Lebed cannot continue to behave like a political campaigner while serving in what is essentially a bureaucratic post.