Confusion over who if anyone is in charge in Russia deepened yesterday. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin’s assertions that he is running the country were ostentatiously undermined by Security Council secretary Aleksandr Lebed, who called a press conference to warn in apocalyptic terms that the country is on the edge of an abyss that could include a mutiny by the army, famine in the Far North, and ecological catastrophe. Doing his best to show he is carrying out not only his own functions but also those normally executed by the president, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin met yesterday with ambassadors of foreign countries represented in Moscow. (NTV, September 26) He also presided over a cabinet meeting at which he called for unity in the president’s absence. Referring to a likely battle with parliament over next year’s budget, Chernomyrdin warned ministers that he would not tolerate bickering or lobbying in parliament for extra cash. But he held out an olive branch to Lebed — who last month wrote to both Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin to demand an increased budget allocation for defense — by saying that defense spending should be reviewed because the ministry had not had a fair hearing. (Interfax, Reuters, UPI, September 26)
Within hours Lebed told a press conference that chaos was growing in the president’s absence. He said Russia had reached a "dangerous watershed" brought on by governmental impotence caused by Yeltsin’s illness. Lebed said the army was on the brink of revolt, Far Northern regions were so short of food and fuel that thousands of people might have to be evacuated this winter, and nuclear power plants and submarines are operating without regulation. Decision-making had practically dried up, he asserted. "The will of the state has gone… During the hundred days I have been in my present post, I have not worked out how decisions are made in this country," he said.
Earlier in the week, Lebed told a newspaper interviewer that Yeltsin "communicates with a limited circle of people of which I am not a part." (Izvestiya, September 25) Lebed’s message yesterday was that, unless urgent steps are taken immediately, Russia faces a "hot October." In a reference to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Lebed added, "You will have noticed that October tends to be a troublesome month for Russia." (ORT, September 26) In this way, Lebed effectively undermined statements by chief Kremlin doctor Sergei Mironov, who told Russian television that Yeltsin was working two to three hours a day, and American cardiologist Michael DeBakey, who said that Yeltsin was alert and that there was "no truth at all" to reports that the president’s liver, kidneys and lungs were too diseased for the operation to go ahead. (NTV, UPI, September 26) Lebed’s main purpose seemed, as before, to impress the Russian public that he is the only leader with enough resolve and determination to handle Russia’s difficult problems.
U.S. Embassy Downplays Spying Incident.