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Russia: Charges And Countercharges Dominate Kremlin Politics

Prague, 24 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Last week's bloodletting in the Kremlin, far from calming the sea of Russian politics, has dangerously stirred the waters, setting the sharks circling.

Yesterday, the Interior Ministry submitted documents to Russia's General Prosecutor which are said to confirm every word of Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov's accusations against Aleksandr Lebed. Kulikov said last week that Lebed was preparing an armed coup with the help of Chechen mercenaries. This led President Boris Yeltsin to oust Lebed from the positions of Security Council Secretary and special presidential adviser.

Lebed laughed off the coup charges as patently absurd. Initially, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin also dismissed them as too far-fetched.

But yesterday, a stern-faced Chernomyrdin warned officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the KGB's successor, that certain people, as he put it, were determined to "use the process of democratic reforms in the country to create extremist, militarized, terrorist and other formations." Without naming the culprits, Chernomyrdin said it was "impossible not to see the gravitation towards a strong hand" and towards "forceful methods of resolving the problems accumulating in society in unconstitutional ways."

In an ironic replay of Yeltsin's own fall from grace a decade ago, Lebed appeared on American television, claiming that far from orchestrating these dark forces, he had fallen victim to them. And Lebed predicted Chernomyrdin's head would be the next to roll, "probably by the middle of November."

Lebed once again pointed the finger at Yeltsin chief-of-staff Anatoly Chubais, saying Chubais was leading a campaign to "artificially isolate" the Russian president.

Lebed followed his television appearance with an interview to the popular Russian weekly "Argumenty i Fakti." He poured further scorn on Kulikov, asking rhetorically, "Where are the crowds or the lists of plotters caught by our esteemed interior minister? Where are their bases? Where do they store their arms? Where are these Chechens coming to the capital in droves?" All pertinent, and so far unanswered questions. Lebed, of course, had an answer. "It is the purest fiction," he reiterated. And yet, he was purged.

Two things must be remembered about purges, however, especially within the context of Russian politics from the times of Ivan the Terrible right through the Communist era and the present.

A successful purge need not be based on true accusations -- in fact the bloodiest purges almost never are. And secondly, purges can acquire a life of their own, tending to slip out of their instigators' control.

The Kremlin power struggle has yet to play itself out and those at the very center of the rumors and accusations, those who managed Yeltsin's successful re-election campaign and now have apparently privileged access to him -- Anatoly Chubais and Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana -- are keeping silent.

Lebed says "victory belongs to the cool and the rational." It remains to be seen who remains the coolest and most rational this hot autumn.