Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin held a top-level meeting this morning to discuss allegations by Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov that national security chief Aleksandr Lebed has been plotting to seize power in a coup d’etat. The prime minister dismissed rumors of a planned coup but said there was "some truth" to Kulikov’s other charge — that Lebed has bonapartist ambitions and has been mustering a private army. Lebed has refused to accept Chernomyrdin’s judgment and says he will appeal to President Boris Yeltsin. He and Kulikov are due to submit reports to Yeltsin later today. (BBC World Service, October 17)
Kulikov told Russian television yesterday that he had documentary evidence that Lebed was mustering a secret force of 50,000 troops and plotting political assassinations with the help of Chechen gunmen. Kulikov said he had put Interior Ministry troops on heightened alert. Lebed ridiculed the accusations and called on Yeltsin to choose between himself and Kulikov. Yeltsin added fuel to the fire: instead of dismissing the allegations, he asked Kulikov for documentary evidence. Chernomyrdin’s reaction was to call today’s apparently inconclusive meeting. (RTR, NTV, Itar-Tass, October 16)
If Chernomyrdin gets his way, Lebed is likely to lose his Kremlin post. This would increase Lebed’s popularity among the electorate and turn him into a center of opposition to the Kremlin. It would do little to reduce the power struggle that has sprung up in the vacuum created by President Yeltsin’s sickness. Observers agree that the latest Kulikov-Lebed clash is based on something more fundamental than personal rivalry between the two men, and seems to represent a new phase in a power struggle between rival Kremlin clans. Lebed’s ouster might, however, prevent that struggle from erupting into armed conflict. Everything seems now to depend on how Yeltsin reacts to Lebed’s appeal. Yeltsin’s traditional way of handling subordinates — divide and rule — has only fanned the present conflict and could provoke even more dangerous consequences, including civil strife, in the future.
Kulikov’s Charges Apparently Based on Both Fact and Rumor.