Lebed reacted calmly, telling a Moscow press conference last night that he plans to take a short rest but will remain in politics. He said Kremlin insiders decided he had to go just two days after he gave Yeltsin a report identifying those responsible for the brutal war in Chechnya. He also said that he was merely the first to lose his job; he alleged that Kulikov had prepared a hit-list and that other dismissals will soon follow. (BBC, October 17; Nezavisimaya gazeta, October 18) Lebed’s press conference, widely reported by the Western media, got noticeably scant coverage on state-sponsored Russian television.
Lebed is now expected to launch his presidential election campaign in earnest. The general feeling is that he has emerged from the events of the past two days as a net winner. His popularity is intact and his profile among the Russian electorate, which has little affection for its present leaders, is high. Should Yeltsin leave the scene any time soon, Lebed’s chances of succeeding him must be high. The main thing Lebed has to fear is the possibility that Yeltsin will serve out his full five year term and that Lebed will have to survive in the wilderness. But the consensus is that it was Yeltsin who took the greater risk in sacking Lebed and that the charismatic general may prove even more troublesome outside the Kremlin than inside.
Lebed’s Popularity is High.