Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 180

Some Russian media reacted today to statements by Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed, who–while heading President Boris Yeltsin’s powerful Security Council in 1996–brokered the deal with ended the 1994-1996 war with Chechnya. Lebed was quoted this week by the French daily Le Figaro as saying that both the terrorist bombings in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia earlier this month (which claimed some 300 lives) and the current bombing of Chechnya were either “stupid” or a “wide-ranging attempt at destabilization” on the part of the Russian government and Kremlin inner circle aimed at providing a pretext for canceling elections (Russian agencies, September 28). The newspaper Izvestia devoted three of its four front-page stories today to Lebed’s comments, all of them extremely critical. One posited that either Lebed has broken with his alleged financial sponsor, tycoon and Kremlin insider Boris Berezovsky, or that Berezovsky himself has completely broken with the Kremlin and is using Lebed as “battering ram” against it. Lebed himself, the paper wrote, is ready to ride into the Kremlin on a “war horse.” A second article referred to Lebed’s comments as a “disgrace” and to the retired paratroop general as a “Bonapartist.”

Izvestia also quoted Dmitri Yakushkin, Yeltsin’s spokesman, as saying that Lebed’s comments were both a deliberate provocation and an attempt to justify the actions of the terrorist bombers. Izvestia is controlled by the Interros financial-industrial group, founded by Vladimir Potanin, one of Berezovsky’s main rivals among the oligarchs. The paper tends to be sympathetic both to Anatoly Chubais, the United Energy Systems chief and another Berezovsky rival, and to Putin.

Former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin today said that “playing the card” of a full-scale ground operation in Chechnya on the eve of parliamentary and presidential elections “to attain political goals” is “extremely dangerous and may lead to a political catastrophe” (Russian agencies, September 30). Stepashin, who was interior minister prior to becoming prime minister and who served as director of Russia’s security service during the 1994-1996 war in Chechnya, joined forces earlier this year with Yabloko, Grigory Yavlinsky’s liberal political movement.

Meanwhile, a poll taken among Muscovites and released today found a majority of respondents–57 percent–opposed to the air attacks on Chechnya, even though an overwhelming majority of those polled (94 percent) said they feared they or their families might be the victims of a terrorist attack. A large number of them (73 percent), however, said that they thought that too many Chechens live in Moscow. The poll was conducted among 800 residents of the capital by the All-Russian Public Opinion Center over September 25-26 (Russian agencies, September 30).