Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 115

In a dramatic move aimed at enhancing his chances for victory in Russia’s upcoming run-off election, President Boris Yeltsin today named Aleksandr Lebed to a top defense post and sacked Russia’s unpopular defense minister, Pavel Grachev. The head of Russia’s general staff, Mikhail Kolesnikov, was named acting defense minister. To maximize the impact of his action, Yeltsin signed the decree appointing Lebed in front of television cameras, and said that he saw the retired general as his likely successor in the year 2000. The move — Lebed was named secretary of Russia’s powerful Security Council and national security advisor to Yeltsin — was undoubtedly aimed at winning support for Yeltsin among Russia’s nationalist electorate, and Lebed claimed that he could deliver up to 80 percent of his eleven million votes to the incumbent president. Lebed, who had also been courted by Communist party leader and Yeltsin rival Gennady Zyuganov, stood with Yeltsin before the cameras and explained his reasons for spurning the Communists’ offer. "I was facing two ideas — an old one that has shed lots of blood and the new one which is being implemented very badly at the moment but has a future. I have chosen the new idea," Lebed said. (Reuter, June 18)

The gravely-voiced former airborne forces commander had emerged an unlikely king-maker yesterday as results of the first round of Russia’s June 16 presidential election showed incumbent Boris Yeltsin and Communist party challenger Gennady Zyuganov finishing neck-in-neck. Yeltsin, who ran just a few percentage points ahead of Zyuganov, appeared from the beginning to have the inside track as both he and Zyuganov moved swiftly to court the popular military leader. But Lebed, who received just under 15 percent of the vote, pointedly ruled out any deal with the Communists, telling reporters that "we have gone past communism and have left this shore forever." Lebed met with Yeltsin yesterday, and the two scheduled today’s fateful meeting. Following yesterday’s meeting, Lebed had described his relations with Yeltsin as "friendly," and a Yeltsin aide had suggested that the two could come to a political arrangement sometime "in the next few days." Lebed said he sought a post that would permit him to "organize the fight against crime and prevent extremists of left and right from plunging the country into an abyss of bloodshed."

But, as political commentators at home and abroad have pointed out, there is no guarantee that the retired general can deliver his votes to Yeltsin. Indeed, Lebed himself declined yesterday to ask his supporters to back Yeltsin, declaring with his trademark bluntness that they "have their own brains." And Zyuganov suggested he was confident of winning over the bulk of Lebed’s electorate, despite the general’s own anti-communism. "Most of Lebed’s votes will go to the national patriotic bloc," Zyuganov told reporters yesterday, because "by spirit and character they are very close to us." (Russia and Western agencies, June 17)

…As Lobov Named First Deputy Prime Minister.