THE TWO SIDES OF ALEKSANDR LEBED.
Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 221
Retired Russian general Aleksandr Lebed spoke on November 22 at the U.S.-Russia Business Council in Washington, DC. That same evening, an interview with Lebed was screened on the Jim Lehrer News Hour. Monitor correspondents who witnessed both events were struck by the contrast between them: speaking to businessmen, Lebed was optimistic and upbeat, but his TV appearance was pessimistic and gloomy. Addressing the businessmen, Lebed presented himself as a reasonable politician, open to contacts with American politicians and business people. He said the West has no need to fear either himself — "I’m not a monster" — or Russia. Lebed said he found Americans well-informed and ready for dialogue, and he looked forward to the day when "Russia will tear away her imperial mask and reveal her true, open, friendly face to a brave new world." He acknowledged that Russia must create favorable conditions for foreign and domestic investment, including reasonable tax, customs, and information policy, and he implied that if he were president, that would be the case.
Lebed said he is "not hysterical" about NATO expansion and favors the construction of a stable security system. But he also argued that NATO should think carefully before incorporating states with inter-ethnic problems. NATO will have a bright future, Lebed said, if it changes its name and re-focuses on countering terrorism, drug trafficking, organized crime, and ecological threats.
In his TV interview, Lebed painted a bleak picture of Russian reality. He said that Russia’s economy and its army are falling apart, that one-third of Russia’s territory is an ecological disaster, and that Russia’s version of democracy is a sham. Seven out of every 10 schoolchildren have some disease or other, Lebed continued, while the president is too sick to govern and has left that task to Anatoly Chubais. And, while Lebed described himself as a democrat, he said he believed full democracy takes years to develop. Asked to label his political philosophy, Lebed replied simply, "National Pragmatism." Monitor’s correspondents detected that pragmatism in action as Lebed told the businessmen he welcomed their investment but, in response to a different type of question from his TV interviewer, made an entirely different case for his ascendancy to the presidency.
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