Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 1

Lebed Scores Moscow and the West over Chechnya

Lebed: Chechen War Shames Moscow, Western Countries

In an exclusive interview, potential presidential candidate Lt. Gen. Aleksandr Lebed, the outspoken commander of the 14th Russian Army in the Transdniestr region of Moldova, says that Russia’s intervention in Chechnya and the West’s failure to react have brought shame on both.

Prism: You have spoken out against military intervention in Chechnya. Why?

Lebed: I understood precisely that the introduction of Russian forces into Chechnya was not connected with any military necessity but rather with a desire on the part of those who had earlier tried to overthrow [Chechen president] Dudayev to cover their tracks through the use of force. Moreover, I do not exclude that certain circles thought they could use the exacerbation of the conflict in Chechnya as a pretext for introducing martial law in Russia and for calling off the parliamentary and presidential elections. By the way, the spread of the military conflict in this region shows that such calculations have not been removed from the table. That is, for certain forces, a broader war in the Caucasus is entirely suitable as a means to presenve their positions in power. In the first instance, this concerns those representatives of state power who are covered with corruption and who could if power were transferred to others find themselves shifted from the comfortable seats of bureaucrats to the hard bench of the condemned.

Secondly, I spoke out against the introduction of forces into Chechnya because I knew the true level of military preparation of the Russian Army today. The reforms, or more precisely the pseudoreforms, carried out by [Defense Minister] Pavel Grachev have paralyzed the army. What kind of military readiness can one spealk of when the land forces have not conducted regimental, divisional or army exercises since 1992. And in general, the land forces, which are a priority for Russia given its geopolitical position are only half alive. Many units have fewer than 50% of their billets filled.

Prism: In Russia, the infantry traditionally has been called the queen of the field. Are you suggesting that the infantry as such no longer exists in the army?

Lebed: Yes, unfortunately. Today, Russia has practically no infantry or more precisely well-prepared units of motorized riflemen. The serious losses of Russian forces in Chechnya are a clear confirmation of this. The defense minister more than once has talked about the creation of some mobile forces. But where are they? Why weren’t they used in Chechnya? The answer is simple: They don’t exist or, in the best case, exist only in the reports of the defense minister to the president.

As a result, the Moscow authorities threw together into the region of the conflict all kinds of military formations capable of any kind of military activity. Even marines were forced to get involved with tasks for which they were never trained. Out of this misuse of forces came the intensive bombing and artillery barrages of population centers, and those actions in turn led to colossal losses among the civilian population. With such a level of barbarity, one must not fight even on the territory of another country not to speak about military actions by one’s own army in one’s own country. All of this happened as a result of the powerless of commanders and military units, which the pseudoreforms of the armed forces had reduced to this pitiful consdition.

Contemporary civilization presupposes the humanization of military actions at least with regard to the civilian population. An example of such an approach was Operation Desert Storm, where each strike was strictly calculated and military actions were conducted in an extremely rational way.

Prism: What in your opinion could be the resolution of the problems in Chechnya?

Lebed: One should try to resolve all conflicts by political means. I consider that it should be possible to negotiate with Dudayev about everything if Moscow would show him elementary respect. Russian tsars, by the way, were able to deal with national leaders of the Caucasian and Asian regions.

That which has taken place in Chechnya is either the result of criminal negligence as a result of which the Kremlin was disinformed about the true state of affairs in the republic or the result of a far-reaching plan connected with disrupting the presidential elections. At the very least, I do not see any elementary logic in the actions of the federal forces from the point of view of military effectiveness. The operation was absolutely unprepared. The attacks on Grozny were conducted in a spontaneously fashion: the forcews involved did not even have maps of the city. As a result, there were enormous losses. Young, poorly trained soldiers were cynically used as cannon fodder. Sometimes the impression is created that some one was acting according to the principle: the worse, the better. I do not exclude that there are forces in Moscow who launched this bloodbath in order to introduce martial law throughout Russia.

At the very least, if political methods had failed and it became necessary to use military pressure, the operation should have been conducted as a lightning strike over the course of several hours. With proper calculations and planning, this would have been completely achieveable with minimal losses.

Alas, Russia is descending deeper and deeper into a military conflict in the North Caucasus and this will lead to a prolonged and useless war.

Prism: If you had been assigned to conduct the military operation in Chechnya, how would you have acted?

Lebed: First of all, I would have considered all the details and carefully described the real consequences of military intervention in this region. I would have tried with weighty arguments to force them to resolve this conflict through political means. If there were no other path except for the use of force, I would have organized an all-around preparation of the military operation, beginning with the forming of public opinion in Russia and abroad, showing with arguments and concrete examples to our foreign partners that there is no other way to resolve this conflict and that we have been forced to use force. The military operation itself, if we were not able to avoid it, ought to have been conducted like a lighting strike with its goal being the removal of an insubordinate and dangerous leader of the republic and his entourage by the operations of special forces. The time needed would be from one night to a maximum of 7 to 10 days. And a further ideological and propagandistic action would accompany these military strikes along with enormous humanitarian assistance to the population. There would be no bombing or artillery strikes, but rather a respectful approach to the elders and other populare leaders of the clans and the immediate holding of free elections.

As a result, the majority of the population of the republic would have a sense of gratitude toward Russia for the removal of a tyrant.

Alas, Russia obtained the opposite result. The barbaric actions of the federal forces toward the civil poulation when as a result of bombing and shelling died those who up to then had suffered from the bandits, the complete violation of local traditions, looting, and force has made Dudayev into a national hero. Around him have been forced to unite those tho are fighting against the occupation of the republic by Russian forces, against those who destroyed their cities and villages.

The result for Russia is worldwide shame, an unattractive image in the world arena.

Prism: In your view, how has the Chechen crisis been reflected in the international situation of Russia?

Lebed: I think that this crisis only increased the threat of the disintegration of the Russian Federation. The subjects of the Russian Federation, I know precisely, do not want to depend any longer on the not always sober and wise but at times unpredictable and aggressive center. Their centrifugal strivings have been objectively strengthened. In reality, why should the regions be forced to pay with the lives of their sons and at the price of their taxes for a war which the center imposed without consulting them. More precisely, why should they pay for a war launched for someone’s secret political interests.

At the same time, in my opinion, we have to a remarkable degree pushed away the opportunity for a civilized and organic coming together with NATO Given the changes in the geopolitical situation in Europe, such a rapprochement was very necessary. It would strengthen international security. I am not saying that Russian should immediately enter NATO, rather that we should have mutually profitable military-political cooperation. During the first stage at the level of partner-like relations and firm guarantees.

However, for such a development of relations with NATO to be possible, one condition is needed: stability in Russia and a strengthening of its role as a guarantor of security and as a center of attraction for the economic, political, and military cooperation of the CIS countries. That is, Russia must be the initiator of an all-sided integration of these countries. This is not an imperial outburst but rather an objective reality. Our couintry is potentially rich and has a favorable geopolitical situation and so on.

Thus, if we would like that postreform Russia should have good relations with NATO, then the resolution of problems in the Eurasian region must occur not through the total expansion and exclusively forced pressure of Russia on the CIS countries but through the close integrated economic, industrial and trade ties of these countries with Russia, through their interest to be on good terms with Russia as a reliable partner. But for this, I repeat, one requires the stability of the Russian political regime and his predictability in the foreign affairs arena. Neighboring countries must not shack from fear during every meeting at the Kremlin and lose themselves in guesses what Moscow will do next.

Today the sittuation is very different. Our former partners in the Warsaw Pact are knocking on the doors of NATO with all their might, seeking protection under its wins from Russia. If their requests are satiosfied, Rossia will face NATO forces on its own borders. What will this lead to? To an intensification of East-Wind tensions. Russia of course, will mobilize all its forces and do everything possible in order to respond. But in order to generate popular support for this, the authorities will be forced to launch an anti-Western propaganda campaign, recreating the image of the enemy in the face of the Western countries and above all the US. To repeat that which we already experienced during the Cold War.

I am certain that this is a dead end. I do not think that NATO should seek to take into its ranks new members any time soon. Another reason for this is that the West does not want an escalation in military forces and will be able to conduct negotiations with Russia more easily after the elections.

Prism: Now, when the Russian army and government have been discredited, what way out do you see from this crisis?

Lebed: I do not consider that the entire army is discredited. There is a saying that a pride of lions under the leadership of a sheep cannot defeat a pride of sheep under the leadership of a lion. … There is only one way out of this situation: immediately end the military actions and the punishment of the civilian population and sit down at the negotiating table. A puppet government will not produce stability in Chechnya–as our experience in Tajikistan has shown.

Prism: Who in your opinion bears responsibility for the events in Chechnya?

Lebed: An investigation should answer this question. True, I do not velieve that such an investigation of the criminal actions of certain military and government leaders is possible today. On the contrary, everything is now being done to conceal the results of this action. According to journalists, there are now attempts being made to bury Russian soldiers in secret. This is barbarism and someone should be brought to justice for it. And they will. If not today, then tomorrow. I do not have any doubts on that.

Prism: What are the consequences of the Chechen conflict for the rest of the world, and how should society react to it?

Lebed: Speaking openly, I am more concerned about the consequences of the conflict for Russia itself. I feat that this war is going to cost us dear. The financial system will finally be in ruins. One cannot speak about an even approximately blanced budget. Production will fall still further, and the destruction of industry will achieve unpredeceded levels. Moscow not surprisingly did not reflect onhow its actions would be viewed abroad. And this is entirely natural given that the reaction of the West to the use of force both in 1993 and now in Chechnya, to put it mildly, did not correspond to democratic principles.

General Lebed was interviewed for Prism by Moscow News military correspondent Aleksandr Zhilin. Reproduced above are excerpts from the interview on the subject of Chechnya. The Russian-language text of the entire wide-ranging interview may be obtained by contacting the Jamestown Foundation.