Publication: Prism Volume: 5 Issue: 19

By Vladimir Mironov

As the summer 2000 election approaches, some nervousness is evident among the Russian political elite, because the prize is the highest public position in Russia. It is unlikely that the powers the head of state now enjoys will undergo any change before then. The next president of the Russian Federation will thus have at his disposal the widest possible range of powers to formulate and implement both domestic and foreign policy. The potential candidates are preparing for the election campaign, seeking to take control of as many informational, financial, economic and political resources as possible, and to expand their social base. The names of most of the genuine candidates are already well known. Almost all of them are concentrated in Moscow, and either lead nationwide parliamentary parties (Gennady Zyuganov, Grigory Yavlinsky, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Viktor Chernomyrdin), or hold the high rank of prime minister in the federal government (Vladimir Putin being the man of the moment).

Only one politician based outside the capital still has the Kremlin in his sights: Krasnoyarsk Governor Lieutenant-General Aleksandr Lebed. As the leader of a region which is the second largest (after Yakutia-Sakha) and perhaps the richest in terms of natural resources, he is trying hard to maintain his status as a nationwide political figure, attracting the attention of the federal media by spreading innuendo and rumors about the great prospects for his future career development. But does Lebed have a realistic chance of “riding into the Kremlin on a white horse” or is this just another example of unfounded political boastfulness?


Lebed’s political career is very closely linked to the history of post-Soviet Russia. He became a household name during the events of August 1991, when the tank battalion commanded by the colonel of the paratroops turned up outside the Supreme Soviet. Despite his muddled and unintelligible explanation of his motives for appearing at the White House (either he had joined forces with the Russian authorities or he was preparing to carry out the orders of the putsch leaders), the media created the first myth about him: This unknown officer had become a defender of democratic Russia. Then came his posting to the Dnestr region and the making of his image as the general who forcibly put down the bloody conflict between Kishinev and Tiraspol. As commander of the 14th Russian Army, deployed in the Dnestr Moldavian Republic, Alexander Lebed never tired of emphasizing his tireless fight against corruption and crime inside the military and government structures in Tiraspol. For several years he expressed his discontent, pushing the limits of the permissible, and simultaneously collected medals and titles from the Russian president. He won his laurels as a peacemaker in 1996 when, as secretary of the Security Council, he signed the Khasaviurt treaty with Aslan Maskhadov.

A few months later Boris Yeltsin fired Lebed, but the former army commander and former Security Council secretary did not give up his political activities, maintaining his presidential ambitions and waiting “for his country to call him.” In May 1998, relying on a section of the local business elite and on powerful support from the media controlled by Boris Berezovsky and the regional barons, Lebed was elected governor of Krasnoyarsk krai.


Lebed sees his governorship in Krasnoyarsk as the springboard for his campaign to be elected as the next president of Russia. He has not led the krai for long–he came to power in spring of last year in a region which was totally unfamiliar to him and which had a whole array of complex social, economic and political problems. He has no experience in economic management or in running civil power structures, and by summer 2000 the presidential election campaign will be over. This, coupled with the scale of his political ambitions, limits his opportunities and creates great problems in drawing up and implementing a social and economic policy good enough to provide the people of Krasnoyarsk krai with some economic prosperity. All this forces Lebed to concentrate on “virtual victories,” provocative statements and scandals. He rejects stabilizing management techniques, preferring to be a destabilizing factor in the political life of the krai.

As a result he has managed to turn against himself, first, most of the deputies in the legislative assembly (including the leader Aleksandr Uss), who block his legislative initiatives, the leaders of the northern autonomous okrugs which form part of the krai, and most local government leaders. The current term of the one-chamber legislative assembly does not expire until the end of 2001, so politically the regional parliamentarians are fairly secure and have plenty of scope for maneuvering. It is no coincidence that they are seeking to venture beyond purely legislative activities. The parliamentarians want to play an instrumental role in forming social and economic policy in the krai. The deputies also aspire to participation in appointment policy in the krai. Following the almost unanimous passage of a law on the krai government which significantly curtails the governor’s powers, the parliamentarians intend to have a say in its formation. It should also be noted that the structure of the organs of state power in this “Russian-doll” type subject of the federation (the krai also incorporates the Dolgano-Nenetsky (Taimirsky) and Evenkiisky autonomous okrugs) is more complex than in normal Russian republics and regions. The leaders of these two sparsely populated northern okrugs (which have a population of just over 100,000, while the population of the krai as a whole is over 3 million) do not represent a real challenge to the Krasnoyarsk governor or legislative assembly, as the leaders of Yamalo-Nenetsky and Khanti-Mansysk okrugs do in Tyumen Oblast. But Krasnoyarsk cannot dismiss the attempts by the authorities in Dudinka and Tura, which have their own budgets, to claim sole control over the minerals and natural resources of their territories, nor can it ignore the fact this is the location of one of the largest industrial enterprises, Norilsk Nickel, which is the biggest contributor of taxes and “ready money” to the krai budget (if there is open confrontation with Krasnoyarsk, the owners and managers of this enterprise may win the support of the authorities of a subject of the federation which has equal rights).

Second, the main business and finance structures in the krai have entered into confrontation with Lebed. They have concentrated the financial resources in one place, by merging the two main regional banks Metaleks and Enisei into one single credit structure that has the potential to figure among the top thirty or fifty banks in the country. Third, the most powerful party structure in the krai–the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and its krai committee–have begun to voice their discontent with Lebed’s activities. Moreover, fourth, he has not been able to maintain unity within the movement he founded himself–Honor and Motherland–which split in early 1999 into political organizations loyal to him and opposed to him. Fifth, he has failed to establish good relations with the main media in the krai, both electronic and print media, which constantly criticize his policies.

The upshot is that Lebed has not been able to cultivate the economic, political and informational resources of Krasnoyarsk krai as back-up for his future presidential election campaign.


Nevertheless, the governor continues to battle for control of the region’s resources, mainly by administrative and political methods. Lebed is reorganizing the system of government in the krai. He intends to retain a small apparatus, directly subordinate to himself, whose tasks will include providing the governor with everything he needs to perform his representative functions, to run the internal and external policy of the krai and also to coordinate the activities of all the organs of power in the region. The economic and social spheres will be managed by the first deputy head of the krai administration, who will have jurisdiction over the committees and departments that handle finance, investment, agriculture and industry, natural resources and the environment. The governor himself directs the work of the newly formed krai security council, which is made up of the heads of all the law enforcement bodies in Krasnoyarsk krai and was set up to keep a closer check on the “power ministers.” It is worth noting here that the krai has witnessed a split between the heads of separate law enforcement divisions, resulting in new appointments Lebed has made to replace disloyal police chiefs.

Lebed is also taking steps to recall the heads of district and small town administrations in order to ensure that the executive power hierarchy functions properly. This procedure has been initiated by activists from the Honor and Motherland movement: Most of the leaders of its local branches have been granted the status of the governor’s representative on human rights, and have been given sweeping powers. They report directly to the head of the krai administration, and have the right to request any information from the town or district authorities and pass it directly to Lebed with their own clarifications. In addition to this, he is trying to split the opposition–in April he appointed the former first secretary of the CPSU krai committee, Pavel Fedirko, as deputy governor and the krai administration’s permanent representative to the government of the Russian Federation. Fedirko had been seen by many of the governor’s opponents as a potential candidate to head the krai government.

In his confrontation with the Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Factory (KrAZ) and the Transnational Aluminum Company (Tanako), who previously funded his election campaign, Lebed is relying on Alfa-Bank, Krasnoyarsk-Energo and Oneximbank, who supported his opponent–the incumbent governor Valery Zubov–during the election campaign. He is also seeking the support of the association for small and medium-sized business, whose chairman, Andrei Pervukhin, has become his official advisor on small and medium-sized business.

However, it would seem that Lebed’s main political and financial reserves are concentrated not only outside Krasnoyarsk krai, but outside Siberia. Despite the fact that Krasnoyarsk krai is a member of the interregional association “Siberian Agreement,” which incorporates nineteen federation subjects, Lebed is making no attempt to lead it, or to form any blocs or unions within it. In his own words: “I don’t need blocs, I am self-sufficient.” Meanwhile, representatives of local officialdom and regional elites as a whole are rather wary of Lebed’s leadership style and performance, both in his former role as Security Council secretary, and in his current position as krai governor. His controversial nature and propensity for major scandals, his willingness to interpret the existing “rules of the game” rather freely, and his flouting of many of the principles of the bureaucracy and the elites–particularly those related to their hierarchical nature–all make it very difficult for him to form coalitions.

Nevertheless, in April 1999, when Lebed was embroiled in conflicts with most of the krai’s political, financial and business elite, it was the federal authorities who signed an agreement between the Russian government and the krai administration on measures to stabilize the social and economic situation in the Krasnoyarsk coal industry. This agreement envisaged that the federal authorities would, first, appoint by agreement with the krai administration no fewer than half of the state’s representatives to the management bodies of federally owned coal companies in the krai, and, second, would agree with the krai administration the conditions of sale of federally owned shares in coal companies and would include in the terms for the competitive sale of shares, where possible, payment by the purchaser of the debt owed to the budget by the coal companies. In addition, in March of this year Moscow and the Kremlin sent to Krasnoyarsk an investigative team from the Interior Ministry and the FSB, headed by General Vladimir Kolesnikov, which began a detailed investigation into corruption and economic crime, and brought charges against Lebed’s main opponents from KrAZ and Tanako. In April Boris Yeltsin instructed the country’s top officials to “undertake urgent measures to strengthen the leadership of the local Prosecutor’s Office, Department of Internal Affairs, FSB and Tax Inspectorate in Krasnoyarsk Krai.” And at the end of October 1999, at the request of the federal law enforcement bodies, Krasnoyarsk’s top businessman and the governor’s main political rival Aleksandr Bykov was arrested on the Hungarian border. For the moment Moscow is pursuing a policy of friendly neutrality in its reaction to Lebed’s tough decision to sever the agreement regulating relations between Krasnoyarsk krai and Taimirsky (Dolgano-Nenetsky) autonomous okrug. The governor deems it necessary to take control of all the financial flows: They should be concentrated in Krasnoyarsk, and should only “return” to the regions at the discretion of the krai authorities.

In other words, Lebed’s economic, financial and political resources are for the time being on a regional scale, which does not give him confidence for a serious fight on the federal political stage. All his actions at a federal level require the support either of circles close to the Kremlin, or of the Berezovsky-controlled media. In other words, at the moment his position may be described as one of dependency and being under the control of others. But a feature of Lebed’s political career has always been his disloyalty to those patrons who have either lost power or who have been significantly weakened and are unable to further his career, or who have got in his way. He has always been ready to change sides, to join the winning side at the expense of his allies and patrons. The Kremlin cannot be unaware of this aspect of Lebed’s political style. But the intricate game being played by the central figure on Russia’s political scene allows him, on the one hand, to tempt Lebed with the trappings of future power, and on the other hand to limit the freedom of movement of Primakov and Putin, who must always be aware of the Kremlin’s potential new favorite lurking behind them. The most fascinating and significant moves in this game are probably still to come.

Vladimir Alekseevich Mironov is a senior fellow of the Institute of International Economic and Political Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.