Lt. General (ret.) Aleksandr Lebed yesterday told the media that he has decided to seek Russia’s presidency in the election scheduled for June 1996. The National Council of the Congress of Russian Communities (KRO), of which Lebed is vice-chairman, endorsed his candidacy at a session in Moscow which also scheduled a congress of the movement for January 11 to formally announce Lebed’s nomination. KRO chairman leader Yuri Skokov and other party leaders took the floor at the session to nominate Lebed. The general said in interviews yesterday that he regards incumbent president Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Zhirinovsky as his main opponents in the presidential race, and that he would seek a deal with Communist party leader Gennady Zyuganov–implying that he hopes the latter would refrain from running for president and endorse Lebed instead as a common candidate of left-nationalist forces. Former CPSU general secretary and USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev for his part said yesterday that Lebed could be a key figure in a coalition of left-of-center forces which would support a common candidate in the presidential election. (7)
Lebed’s decision had been expected. The 46-year-old paratroop officer has for the past year ranked consistently near the top in the popularity ratings of Russia’s political and military leaders, and is a highly effective TV performer. He was forced to retire from the army earlier this year after a long series of vitriolic attacks on Yeltsin and defense minister Pavel Grachev and other insubordinate acts. Lebed’s views on political, economic, military, and foreign policy issues are authoritarian-statist and hard-line nationalist. He has just won a Duma seat from a single-mandate constituency, but his nation-wide coattails were not enough to carry KRO into the legislature; the movement fell short of the 5 percent threshold. This indicates that Lebed continues to lack a viable organizational base for his presidential aspirations. Yet Lebed is thought to stand a good chance of going into a runoff against Yeltsin and even to win against the unpopular president (should the latter seek reelection), provided the noncharismatic Zyuganov throws the Communist party’s support behind the general.
Chernomyrdin Exhorts Government to Close Ranks.