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Western Press Review: Commentators Are As Outspoken As Lebed

  • Don Hill
  • Katarzyna Wysocka

Prague, 18 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today greets Russian President Boris Yeltsin's dismissal yesterday of Aleksandr Lebed with a torrent of words as mixed and as volatile as the outgoing general himself.

WASHINGTON POST: Yeltsin drove the cat into a corner

"Aleksandr Lebed, the fired Russian national security chief, is fond of rough-hewn aphorisms. 'A cat driven into a corner,' he says, 'becomes a tiger.' (Yesterday), President Boris Yeltsin drove the cat into a corner," writes David Hoffman.

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: A political hanging occurred

Steve Liesman and Neela Banerjee say: "A political hanging occurred here (yesterday), but the victim is far from dead."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The political elite got rid of the climber

The paper editorializes: "Aleksandr Lebed's dismissal could be seen coming. He has been the target of attacks in the most influential television programs for weeks." The editorial says: "It is now clear that (Interior Minister Anatoly) Kulikov was only able to behave this way for months with backing from above. The difficult, but popular ex-general Lebed has long been a thorn in the side of Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin and Chief of Staff Anatoly Chubais."

It concludes: "Only Chubais and Chernomyrdin have regular access to Yeltsin's sanatorium. Their information shapes the president's decisions, and in this way the political elite has managed to get rid of the climber, Lebed, who has been too dangerous for them for a long time. Yet in this way Lebed has also freed himself from the unpopular state apparatus. His sacking may only serve to make him more popular. Should there be early elections, Lebed is the favorite."

NEW YORK TIMES: Kulikov is almost as disruptive a force as Lebed

In an editorial, entitled "Farewell, For Now, to Lebed" the paper says: "If Lebed goes quietly, which is not assured despite his initial acquiescence, the move may buy Russia a badly needed period of stability in the Kremlin. Even then, it will not be cost-free. Yeltsin had an obligation to restore order in his government and the right to dismiss a headstrong aide who defied every plea to cooperate with his colleagues."

It says: "But Yeltsin must not repudiate Lebed's achievements, including the peace agreement that ended the war in Chechnya, and should not reward Lebed's enemies, particularly Anatoly Kulikov, the interior minister. Kulikov, one of the architects of Moscow's brutal military campaign in Chechnya, has been almost as disruptive a force in Moscow as Lebed."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: Lebed may be a more dangerous enemy outside the Kremlin

The paper editorializes: "The public sacking of (Lebed) is merely the end of one round in the battle to succeed President Yeltsin." It says: "In order to guard the fiefdoms of power, the Kremlin insider plotted General Lebed's removal. But they are likely to find him a more dangerous enemy outside the Kremlin than in." The newspaper says: "It is time for Britain and its allies in the West to hang on to their hats and purses. It is no time for soft diplomatic words, or soft loans and subsidies for Moscow."

LONDON GUARDIAN: Yeltsin has blundered into a new danger

The paper says in an editorial: "Boris Yeltsin has blundered into new danger by his inept resolution of the Kremlin power struggle. (Lebed) may be shrouded in darkness, but so are those who are attacking him."

LONDON TIMES: The popular verdict is that Lebed was a victim of a plot

The paper editorializes: "The popular verdict is likely to be that Mr. Lebed was the victim of a Kremlin plot redolent of the communist era. If people conclude that he was duped by Mr. Lebed's political enemies, Mr. Yeltsin's show of strength may yet come to be seen as further evidence of his weakness."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The Kulikov charges were a good excuse

The paper says in an editorial: "Most likely the Kulikov charges simply offered a good excuse for the Russian power structure to dispose of a troublesome presence."

HANDELSBLATT: Yesterday's expulsion could be tomorrow's invitation

The German newspaper editorializes: "In the recent struggle for power, Kulikov -- the apparatchik reminiscent of Soviet times -- was only a pawn pushed forward on the chess board." The newspaper says: "The political capital which is at Lebed's disposition -- enhanced by his dismissal -- is enormous." It says: "Only Lebed is regarded as immune to the omnipresent corruption (in the Russian government)." The newspaper says: "Yesterday's expulsion could really be tomorrow's invitation into the Kremlin."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Few believe the dismissal is the end of the story

The British newspaper says in an editorial: "Few people believe that yesterday's dismissal of (Lebed), the forthright security chief, marks the end of the story." The newspaper concludes: "There is very little the West can do, apart from offer assurances that whatever the problems, self-inflicted and otherwise, that are now afflicting the Kremlin, it will not take cynical advantage of Russia's resulting weakness."

NEW YORK TIMES: Lebed announced his presidential ambitions

Alessandra Stanley writes in an analysis: "Cocky and unbowed, Alexander Lebed announced his presidential ambitions only three hours after President Boris Yeltsin angrily dismissed him as national security adviser." She says: "Lebed added somewhat testily that the chief-of-staff, Anatoly Chubais, had masterminded his fall from grace -- and added that the Yeltsin aide did so because he 'wants to be president.'

Stanley contends: "His dramatic dismissal could energize voters and allow the populist and already highly-popular Lebed to rally public discontent and disgust over government-as-usual. But Lebed may also find that the rivals who drove him out of office after months of intense and highly public skirmishing will prove just as determined to chase him off the political stage -- and possibly more effective."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: It's too early to write Yeltsin off

The paper says in an editorial: "(Lebed) leaves the Kremlin with a mixed balance." The newspaper says: "Whether Lebed will become a martyr or will be forgotten (will) depend on how soon the Yeltsin era ends. If elections don't happen before the year 2000, some of his glory could fade. But up to now Yeltsin has showed that it is too early to write him off."

LONDON GUARDIAN: Lebed was not politically secure

David Hearst comments: "(Lebed) lasted 121 days in office. For most of the time the secretary of the Security Council was anything but politically secure."