Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 16

The war between Lebed and his opponents heated up significantly last week with a dispute over the Borodinsky open pit mine, the largest in Russia. Last month, Krasugol’s management gave another local firm, the Krasnoyarsk Fuel Company (KTK), the right to collect a debt from Borodinsky worth 42 million rubles–some US$2 million at current exchange rates. In exchange for the permission to collect the debt, KTK promised to supply Krasugol mines with fuel. KTK–which is affiliated with the Tanako group, which aluminum boss Anatoly Bykov controls–subsequently sold the debt to another company in the neighboring region of Novosibirsk. The Novosibirsk firm is also believed to be affiliated with Bykov, and is expected to try and bankrupt the Borodinsky mine and seize its assets. Last week, an enraged Lebed demanded that the right to claim the debt be returned to Krasugol by January 22 and that KTK be expelled from Krasnoyarsk (Moscow Times, January 23). Lebed cursed Marat Saitov, one of the KTK’s heads, in front of the local press, and promised to “break spines” if his ultimatum was not met. In response, Oleg Yanovets, another KTK founder and, like Lebed, a former airborne soldier, challenged Lebed to a boxing match. Yanovets was once the airborne troops’ light-heavyweight boxing champion. On January 22 heavily armed special police forces in masks and camouflage raided Yanovets’ and Bykov’s offices (Russian agencies, January 23).

On January 21, some 1,500 people held a demonstration to support Lebed and to denounce the local “criminals” whom he is battling. But there is little doubt that the balance of power in Krasnoyarsk is tipping against Lebed. Bykov and his allies have successfully appealed to local patriotism, portraying Lebed and his team as interlopers from Moscow. The local media and trade union leadership is now overwhelmingly pro-Bykov and anti-Lebed. Even the Krasnoyarsk branch of Lebed’s own movement, Honor and Motherland, has split, with one faction, representing as many as half the local members of the movement, saying that it no longer supports the governor and announcing the formation of a new movement with a new name.

More ominously for Lebed, the local legislative assembly last week approved a measure which would severely curtail his powers. While Lebed can veto it, observers believe that his veto will easily be overridden, given that a majority of the local deputies, including those from the Communist Party, are against him. In addition, Aleksandr Uss, chairman of Krasnoyarsk’s legislative assembly, said that impeaching Lebed is “quite a feasible option” (Russian agencies, January 23).

How Lebed’s fortunes in Krasnoyarsk will play nationally is difficult to say. Over the last few days, several Moscow newspapers have interpreted the events in Krasnoyarsk as showing that while Lebed had intended to use the regional governship as a trampoline to the Kremlin, his strategy has backfired. On the other hand, the presidential preference poll taken by the Public Opinion Foundation for NTV’s “Itogi” program found this week that Lebed had ousted Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky for fourth place. Ten percent of those polled said they would have voted for Lebed had elections been held yesterday. Last week, only 8 percent of those polled supported Lebed (NTV, January 24).