Publication: Prism Volume: 2 Issue: 16

Lebed: What Lies Ahead

By Gleb Cherkassov

Russian Security Council secretary Aleksandr Lebed managed tohang on in his post a little less than four months. The man whotook third place in the presidential elections, and, by joiningBoris Yeltsin’s team, helped him to win a decisive victory inthe second round over Gennady Zyuganov, was fired by the presidentpersonally. Yeltsin appeared on the television screen from hissanatorium, made a short, but emotional, speech, and signed anorder removing him. The president’s actions were supported bya mass propaganda campaign; for two days running the televisionchannels accused Lebed of every mortal sin.

People began predicting that Lebed would not hold on in the Kremlinthe day after he was appointed. The opposition leaders who understoodthat after Lebed joined Yeltsin’s team, Zyuganov’s chances wouldgo down the drain, were the most zealous in their predictions.

Lebed never hid the fact that he had presidential ambitions. AndBoris Yeltsin, in an indirect way, did not rule out Lebed’s becominghis successor. From all indications, Russia’s first presidentmay really have been thinking about making Lebed the second president.But the people surrounding Yeltsin, above all, Viktor Chernomyrdin,who thought that the job should be his could not agree with this.

Chernomyrdin, however, did not discuss his feelings. He strictlyobserved the bureaucrat’s unwritten code, which states that onemust never disclose his true intentions and must avoid makingenemies.

From that point of view, Lebed behaved very badly indeed. He wasincautious in his statements, and even more so, in his actions.While he was Security Council secretary, he did not make a singlefriend in the government structures. He allowed himself to speakopenly about his presidential ambitions and discussed the president’sillness. The friendship which unexpectedly arose between Lebedand Aleksandr Korzhakov, the former head of the Presidential SecurityService turned all of the president’s entourage, and above all,Boris Yeltsin’s family, against him. And nobody in the governmentwanted anything to do with Lebed after he appointed Sergei Glazyev,the ex-chairman of the State Duma’s Economic Policy Committeeand former minister of foreign economic relations, who in recentyears had quarreled with virtually every government official,as his economic advisor. Lebed lost the support of the army’stop generals after he spoke out publicly in defense of the airbornetroops — paratroopers are not well-liked in the army. After makingpeace in Chechnya, he made enemies of all of the hard-liners,and handing the republic over to the separatists, he deprivedall those who had invested money in the reconstruction of Chechnyaof the possibility of earning it back.

In other words, Lebed involuntarily enabled the government eliteto close ranks against him. Viktor Chernomyrdin, presidentialchief of administration Anatoly Chubais, Minister of InternalAffairs Anatoly Kulikov, and Minister of Defense Igor Rodionovall united in the fight against him.

The Security Council secretary had no chance against the governmentmachine, but in all probability, he didn’t want to stay on inhis position, anyway.

Strictly speaking, all of his actions, which looked like mistakesfrom the bureaucrat’s point of view, were extremely successfulfrom the point of view of electoral politics. Lebed’s franknessattracted the voters, who were sick of the evasive double-talkwhich is characteristic of the overwhelming majority of Russianpoliticians. His alliance with Aleksandr Korzhakov gave him compromisinginformation on top officials, money, and an analytical team. Defendingthe airborne troops brought Lebed the eternal sympathy, not onlyof veterans of the airborne troops, but also among those who wishto see the Russian army become a mighty force, able to fight anyone– paratroopers are considered the army’s elite. His protectionof Glazyev brought Lebed support from those who do not agree withthe government’s present economic course, and moreover, he showedthat he stands behind those who are loyal to him. And finally,the peace in Chechnya brought him unexpected dividends in theform of the support of all consistent opponents of the war inthe Northern Caucasus.

Lebed’s removal has closed a number of questions, and has openedothers. The peace process in the Northern Caucasus, which wasAleksandr Lebed’s most weighty achievement while he was in governmentservice, will become the biggest problem.

No one really knows what to do next with Chechnya. The peace process,in large part, was built on Lebed’s personal authority, and theseparatist leaders are inclined to negotiate only with him. Ifhostilities resume, the people who removed Aleksandr Lebed willbe blamed, both in Russia and in Chechnya. Moreover, the separatists’hands are tied: the man who signed virtually all the agreementsis no longer a government official. Of course, they can demandthat a top government official confirm that the documents whichLebed signed are still in force. Thus, the politicians remainingin the Kremlin must either continue the peace process begun byAleksandr Lebed, thereby absolving him of betraying Russia’s nationalinterests, or make a step towards escalating military actions.

The search for a successor to Boris Yeltsin is no less of a problem.Viktor Chernomyrdin considers himself to be the "party ofpower’s" main candidate in the next presidential elections,although far from everyone agrees with him. Many remember thatthe prime minister lost the parliamentary elections, and thereforehave no hope that Chernomyrdin will succeed in winning the muchmore complicated presidential campaign. Some top officials maybe looking at Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, but it wouldn’t be easyfor him to win a nationwide election either.

It cannot be ruled out that, with the elections approaching, peoplein the Kremlin will take another look at supporting AleksandrLebed, but if so, they would have to make an agreement under completelydifferent terms. The "enfant terrible," who brokeall the written and unwritten rules of the political game, hasleft the Kremlin, and a political leader has appeared on the horizonwho can gather all the non-Communists and non-democrats aroundhim — i.e., a majority of Russian voters.

Now, a great deal depends on when the elections are held — fromall estimates, if the elections are held in the next two years,Aleksandr Lebed will be the next president. It cannot be ruledout that he will come to that post as governor of Tula, wherehe has been nominated as a candidate.

Translated by Mark Eckert