Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 143

Aleksandr Lebed grabbed the limelight during Vice-President Al Gore’s visit to Moscow last week by releasing an open letter to Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko in which he warned of the dire consequences of Moscow’s failure to pay its nuclear-armed troops. Lebed wrote that soldiers in the strategic missile unit in Uzhur-4 in Krasnoyarsk Krai, where Lebed is governor, have not been paid for five months. The officers are “hungry and angry,” Lebed wrote, and their panic-stricken wives are besieging divisional headquarters. (NTV, Reuter, July 24) Lebed offered to take over responsibility for the troops, conjuring up the specter of a Russia split up into nuclear-armed principalities. “I am seriously thinking of taking the unit under the jurisdiction of the krai,” Lebed wrote. “We, the people of Krasnoyarsk, are not yet a rich people. But in exchange for the status of a nuclear territory, we will, if you like, feed the unit and become, along with India and Pakistan, a headache for the world community.”

Over the past few years, many regional governors have had to support troops on their territory. This has not yet provoked the nightmare scenario conjured up in Lebed’s letter. Nor is this the first time that Lebed has warned of a possible mutiny in the armed forces. During the election campaign in Krasnoyarsk in the spring, Lebed dismissed as “buffoonery” threats by his opponent, the incumbent governor, to take Krasnoyarsk out of the Russian Federation. “Separatism is out of the question here,” Lebed told a TV interviewer at that time. “We are right in the middle of Russia. How therefore can we talk about separatism and positions of force?” (ORT, April 18)