Publication: Prism Volume: 2 Issue: 16

Lebed: Why He was Fired

By Nikolai Troitsky

Aleksandr Lebed’s banishment from the Kremlin could be fatal,either for the general himself, or for those who were behind theorder removing him. The general, of course, had no intention ofbeing a bureaucrat for the rest of his life, but all the same,he did not suppose that the end would come so soon, and that hewould be taken out of the game so quickly. He relied on his laurelsas a peacemaker — if not angels’ wings, they still gave him asecure foothold in the higher reaches of government. And finally,he had remained loyal to the president, and was confident thatthe president would not let anyone harm him.

It is possible that Lebed’s calculations would have been justifiedif Yeltsin had been able to work, and really controlled the situation.But the ailing president was much more guided and under the influenceof his immediate entourage than the Security Council secretaryhad previously thought. Clearly, the fact that Yeltsin had onlymet with Lebed once during his recent illness, while he met withAnatoly Chubais and Viktor Chernomyrdin many times, did not help.Chubais could meet with Yeltsin whenever he wanted: the presidentnow has no "doorkeeper," as he once had in AleksandrKorzhakov, the commander of his bodyguard, or his chief assistantViktor Ilyushin.

So the answer to the question "Who got Lebed fired?"is clear: Chubais and Chernomyrdin. Chubais was the initiator,and Chernomyrdin couldn’t, or wouldn’t, stand in his way. Thereis reliable information that it was the Kremlin’s chief administratorwho set Minister of Internal Affairs Anatoly Kulikov against Lebed,giving him his blessing to collect compromising information onthe Security Council secretary. The fact that Kulikov, a ferventpatriot and hawk, enthusiastically set about his task, since heconsidered both the peacemaking in Chechnya and Lebed’s role init to be harmful to Russia, is another matter entirely.

But there is another question: "Why did they fire Lebed?"Several official versions of the answer to this question havebeen advanced in the media outlets which live on the money ofChubais’ allies and partners, – (the bankers Gusinsky and Berezovsky),- several influential newspapers and magazines, plus the mostpopular television channels, ORT (Channel 1) and NTV.

First version: Lebed wanted to get kicked out

There is a certain amount of logic to this. Lebed broke all therules of decency, violated bureaucratic etiquette, permitted himselfto disagree publicly with the actions of several highly placedofficials, etc. But why did he act this way? Out of his own stupidity,and his primitive nature? Hardly. Up to that time, the generalhad proved to be a rather shrewd politician.

It must not be forgotten that in the beginning of June, Yeltsintook Lebed onto his team, not as just another official, but asa political adviser, who had 11 million votes behind him. Thiswas, so to speak, a coalition, and according to their preliminaryagreements, Lebed received wide freedom of action. There was onelimitation: he could not speak out against the president. AndLebed did not. True, he made a number of incautious statementsin interviews with Western newspapers, but that was more due tohis lack of experience than to any deliberate intention to doharm. But in any case, the general had not mastered "courtetiquette."

Moreover, Lebed was constantly provoked: the head of the MVD accusedhim of ruining Russia and of having ties to the Chechen Mafia;the Minister of Defense decided to reorganize the Airborne Troops;even Chubais — who is supposed to be a liberal — accused thegeneral of being insufficiently patriotic. Lebed is not the kindof man who can sit and take this without answering back. Yes,he gave in under provocation, he overreacted. But this provocationis a sign that others were pushing Lebed in this direction.

Second version: Lebed was removed because he had destroyedthe team’s unity

But there has never been a unified team in the Kremlin! Yeltsin’sfavorite way of ruling the country is to set his subordinatesagainst each other: so that none of them will get too strong anddevelop higher ambitions. Lebed’s powerful figure could counterbalanceChubais and Chernomyrdin. This system of checks and balances couldhave kept the situation reasonably stable. This could have suitedthe president well, but could hardly be to the taste of eitherChernomyrdin or Chubais. Exploiting the head of state’s weakness,they removed the general from his counterbalancing position.

Finally, only a crazy man could have invited General Lebed in"to strengthen the team." They knew who they were getting.And thus, they are responsible for the consequences.

Third version: Lebed was preparing for the president’s deathand was setting up his election campaign

This would be a serious moral reproach, but morality is foreignto politics. Everyone was preparing, and still is preparing, forthe president’s death — Chernomyrdin, Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov,Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, and even Chubais. They’re allconstantly setting up their election campaigns, putting togethercampaign staffs, and Chubais, who has no hope of becoming presidenthimself, is carrying on negotiations with the aim of heading thepresidential staff of one of the candidates.

But all this is going on unnoticed. Being experienced "courtiers,"they are able to hide their intrigues. Lebed had no such possibility.Behind-the-scenes intrigues are not his forte. He tried to puthis people in key positions, but was defeated: even the one manhe managed to get appointed, Minister of Defense Igor Rodionov,turned his back on him. He had nothing left but to appeal to themasses of future voters over the heads of his direct superiors.

People say that the Security Council secretary should not be apublic politician. Possibly. But then again, they should haveappointed a different person to the job from the very outset.If they took Lebed, only to fire him later — then what’s thepoint of blaming him?

Fourth and final version: General Lebed was fired because hegot close to the president’s former bodyguard, General Korzhakov

The president himself emphasized this in his televised speechon the reasons for Lebed’s dismissal: I fired Korzhakov, and Lebedmade him his successor as deputy from the Tula electoral district.

This is a strange conclusion. What, is Korzhakov the president’senemy? Is he now an "outcast" after serving him faithfullyfor so many years? There are even rumors circulating that Korzhakovhas gotten close to the Communists. But that is completely absurd!Both Korzhakov and Lebed himself are absolutely unacceptable figuresfor the leftist opposition. It is not for nothing that all theopposition figures approved the general’s dismissal: a dangerouscompetitor in the struggle for power had been removed from thepolitical arena. And by the way, the Communist Party is very closeto another high-ranking official–Lebed’s arch-enemy, InteriorMinister Kulikov. But for some reason, they didn’t fire him…

Nevertheless, it was Lebed’s alliance with Korzhakov which servedas the catalyst in the Security Council secretary’s removal. Therewere many reasons for this.

When Korzhakov spoke of compromising information on top governmentofficials, he wasn’t bluffing. There is such information, butKorzhakov does not have it himself. It is in the safes of theFederal Security Service [FSB]. I know for a fact that there aredocuments there which implicate Chubais in illegal financial machinationsduring the privatization period, in which his present banker friendsGusinsky, Berezovsky, and Vladimir Potanin, who has since becomefirst vice-premier, figure prominently. I saw several of thesedocuments with my own eyes, but FSB officials categorically refusedto release them to the press, fearing for their own lives.

And so, an alliance was formed which was very dangerous for Chubaisand his friends: Lebed-Korzhakov-the FSB. It had to be destroyed,no matter what. So Chubais showed the president an interview withKorzhakov’s former deputy, Colonel Streletsky, in which the latterspoke of Yeltsin’s daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, in an offensivetone (incidentally, she is closely linked with Chubais’ group,and with her help, the Kremlin administration is able to pushYeltsin into making the decisions they need). The president neverforgives insults to his family, and in his own mind, forged thechain: Streletsky-Korzhakov-Lebed. Lebed’s fate was decided thenand there.

In spite of this, it must be admitted that making an open, publicalliance with Korzhakov was one of General Lebed’s main mistakes.The figure of the former chief bodyguard gives rise to too manynegative associations in the public mind.

But Lebed is speaking the truth when he says that he was removedby Chubais, because he was an obstacle to the latter’s rulingthe country instead of Yeltsin. Of course, Lebed himself wantedto rule the country in that way, but didn’t succeed, but that’sanother matter.

What next? General Lebed has very good chances for victory inthe presidential elections, if they take place, at a minimum,in the next six months. He is accumulating all of the dissatisfactionwith official policy, and is becoming an opposition leader whocannot be accused of "pulling the country back." Consequently,as cynical as this sounds, the worse the president’s health gets,the better it is for the general.

If Yeltsin hangs on for a year or two, then General Lebed willlose all his political capital, and will suffer the fate of anotheronce-popular general, former vice president Aleksandr Rutskoi.Lebed, deprived of a government position, cannot hold the public’sattention that long. He has no organizational structure, and,most likely, cannot create one. People will simply forget him.And then, his predictions of a "hot autumn" in 1996will remain just an empty phrase.

So everything depends on the condition of the president’s health.Reports on this are quite contradictory. But it must not be allthat bad, if he was smart enough to think of creating a "collectiveregency" on October 21. No, not the kind which Lebed andKorzhakov are talking about, but a sort of supreme ConsultativeCouncil, made up of Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, Chubais, andthe Speakers of both houses of parliament, Gennady Seleznev andYegor Stroyev.

From all indications, in the near future, it will be these fourwho will rule the country. Chubais and Chernomyrdin will counterbalanceeach other, and the speakers will try to restrain their ambitions.Thus, Yeltsin has re-established his system of checks and balances.But there is no longer any room in it for General Lebed.

Translated by Mark Eckert