LEBED ON THE WARPATH
Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 179
. Russian Security Council secretary Aleksandr Lebed, seemingly intent upon positioning himself as the successor to ailing Russian president Boris Yeltsin, stepped up his anti-government and his anti-Western rhetoric yesterday. In the first case, Lebed strongly suggested that the government of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin was deliberately holding back funding earmarked for the military in order to weaken the armed forces and undermine its defense minister (a political ally of Lebed’s). The result, the retired general charged, is that soldiers and officers are going hungry, military personnel are forced to beg and steal, and the rate of suicide in the armed forces is rising. The situation has degenerated to the point that "an armed mutiny could take place this autumn," he told the Vechernyaya Moskva newspaper.(Western & Russian agencies, September 25) Lebed’s remarks echo weeks of complaining by military leaders that the government’s wage and funding arrears to the armed forces are lowering morale and raising resentment. These highly public verbal attacks, which also come as the government debates its 1997 military budget, have assumed an increasingly incendiary edge of late that appears to reflect political motivations beyond those of simply assuring the welfare of military personnel.
Lebed’s remarks about relations with the West were, if anything, more extreme. The former paratrooper commander excoriated the U.S. for its recent air attacks on Iraq, and repeated an earlier accusation that Washington may be planning to launch similar military operations against Russia. Lebed is scheduled to visit NATO headquarters in early October, and he indicated in the Vechernyaya Moskva interview that he would "raise this question" while in Brussels. But Lebed did not stop there. He declared that Moscow would respond in kind to any U.S. attack and would also not hesitate to fight a full-scale war. "We have nothing to lose. We have no pain threshold… So think it over, gentlemen," he was quoted as saying.(UPI, September 25) Such words stand in sharp contrast to the rhetoric that Lebed has frequently used while addressing Russia’s war in Chechnya, when he has spoken of the army’s — and the nation’s — physical and morale exhaustion over the violence and bloodshed there. Like his remarks on the financial problems facing Russia’s military, Lebed’s conjuring up of an imaginary war threat from the U.S. smacks of political posturing that will raise temperatures in Moscow and, among things, complicate efforts to reach a workable accommodation with NATO.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Lebed denied on September 24 that his boss had threatened to impose economic sanctions on Western companies in response to NATO enlargement. The spokesman described as a fabrication and a provocation an interview with Lebed, published on September 24 by the Daily Telegraph, which contained statements to that effect. (See Monitor, September 25) The British newspaper, however, insists that the interview did indeed take place. Its stance is supported by the similarity in tone between Lebed’s remarks on NATO as reported by the Daily Telegraph and those that appeared in Vechernyaya Moskva. (Itar-Tass, BBC, September 24)
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