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Russia: General Lebed Campaigns In Washington

By Alexandre d'Aragon

Washington, 23 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Former Russian national security chief Alexander Lebed combined a Russian political campaign with a book promotion tour during his week-long visit to Washington last week.

Lebed, who ran against President Boris Yeltsin in 1996 and finished third, is now running for governor of the Krasnoyarsk region in Siberia. The election is April 26. He's also expected to stand for the Russian presidency again in the year 2000. Lebed told reporters last week that he hopes his U.S. visit will have a positive bearing on his campaign.

Lebed said Krasnoyarsk needs to develop its infrastructure to tap its vast natural resources. While in the U.S., he met with companies specializing in road building, telecommunications and oil extraction.

Lebed is also on a U.S. tour promoting the English language version of his autobiography. The book, titled "General Alexander Lebed: My Life And My Country," was released in October 1997. Lebed's visit was organized by both his publisher, Regnery Publishing of Washington and the U.S. House of Representatives.

The retired general, who was fired by Yeltsin from his post as national security director, met with several senators and congressmen and discussed his country's economic and security problems.

In appearances before committees in both the House and Senate, Lebed repeated some themes he sounded last year about what he believes are threats to Russia's nuclear weapons stockpile.

He said there is a danger that trained professionals with access to weapons of mass destruction will turn to crime and threaten the world with nuclear terrorism or nuclear blackmail. He said soldiers and nuclear scientists receive little or no pay at all and are tempted to earn a living outside the military service.

Lebed said current international assistance is ineffective and the money does not go to the right people. He said: "the way the IMF (International Monetary Fund) is acting now, you can just as well throw all the cash through the window, to the winds. Because what they are doing, making cash injections unsystematically without any plans, has no positive results and the money is stolen almost immediately."

Lebed said his country needs a new system like the post-war Marshall Plan to solve its problems. He added that Russia can't reform on his own in a democratic way. And that in the present conditions of political and economic instability, the West cannot count on Russia as a reliable partner. On the issue of NATO expansion, Lebed said he perceives no threats from the West. He said: "If the leadership of NATO and the United States believe that if they take the Czech Republic into NATO that will strongly augment their military might, well, if you have spare cash to burn and your taxpayers do not mind, go ahead, expand."

Lebed testified on Thursday before a House of Representatives National Security subcommittee. He was invited to discuss the safety of Russia's nuclear arsenal and U.S.-Russian relations by panel chairman Congressman Curt Weldon (R-Pennsylvania).

Last year, Lebed created a controversy when he claimed that Russia had lost track of some of its portable nuclear weapons, the so-called suitcase bombs, designed for sabotage operations. Lebed told Congressmen this specific issue is not so important anymore because, for purely technical reasons, the bombs are no longer as effective as they once were.

Throughout his visit, Lebed harshly criticized President Yeltsin. He said Yeltsin was too unpredictable to have his finger on the nuclear button.