Yeltsin Fires Lebed, After Reports Of Mutiny Plot
MOSCOW (AP) _ President Boris Yeltsin fired security chief Alexander Lebed today, one day after the interior minister accused the former general of building his own rogue army in an attempt to seize power.
Lebed’s firing _ the latest Kremlin upheaval while the ailing president prepares for heart surgery _ was a clear attempt to stem the growing influence of a man whose ambitions have led many, including the prime minister, to accuse him of having a ``Napoleon complex.″
A scowling Yeltsin announced the firing today on national television. He immediately signed a presidential decree removing Lebed from his official duties, saying that Lebed’s behavior was damaging to the country.
``I can’t tolerate the situation any more,″ Yeltsin said, speaking from the spa where he has been resting outside Moscow. ``I have to relieve General Lebed of his position as secretary of the security council.″
Lebed’s departure from the Kremlin should diminish the bickering that has created the widespread impression of a government in chaos. It would, however, also clear the way for Lebed to begin campaigning for the presidency if Yeltsin’s health problems prevent him from serving out his term.
Nevertheless, with Yeltsin unable to function fully because of his heart trouble, the government is likely to remain weak, beset by internal squabbling and external criticism _ something likely to increase now that Lebed is on the outside.
Yeltsin took Lebed into his government after the popular general came in third in the first round of presidential elections, in June. But Lebed’s relentless desire for power _ and the presidency _ made him too troublesome, particularly with Yeltsin absent from the Kremlin.
In his address, the president said he had encouraged Lebed to be patient and try to work with others when the security chief tried to resign several weeks ago. But now, in light of recent developments, Yeltsin said it was time for Lebed to step down.
Yeltsin said Lebed was running for president already, and he complained that the security chief had made decisions without consulting him or the rest of the government.
The president acted hours after an emergency government meeting of security chiefs, called because Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov had accused Lebed of plotting a mutiny to seize power. Kulikov says he has documentary proof that Lebed is trying to create his own Russian Legion of up to 50,000 fighters. Lebed had denied the accusation.
After the meeting, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin tried to dismiss the possibility of a coup, but nevertheless called for increased security ``in the dangerous places of the country″ and appealed for calm among the security forces.
The prime minister, in a national television appearance, apparently referred to Lebed when he condemned ``irresponsibility, incompetence, a home-grown Napoleon complex, that are clearly brimming over, especially lately.″
He also told Cabinet officials that some documents Kulikov presented on the Legion have some merit.
In parliament today, legislators across the political spectrum urged the two security chiefs to stop playing political games. Gennady Seleznyov, the Communist speaker of the lower house, said both should resign.
``When generals fight, it always augurs bad political events,″ said Alexander Shokhin, a liberal lawmaker.
Beefed-up police patrols were visible throughout the capital today, following an Interior Ministry security alert the night before. Ministry officials said up to 2,000 interior troops were being brought to Moscow to increase roadblocks and patrols at airports, subways and train stations.
Lebed attended the meeting today, and hours later his guards detained and disarmed Interior Ministry agents who had been following him, according to Lebed’s office. Lebed accused Kulikov’s ministry of possibly having other Kremlin leaders under illegal surveillance.
The ministry said the two agents involved were on a special anti-terrorism operation, and claimed their lives were put in danger when Lebed’s men seized and unmasked them. It denied that Lebed was watched, the Interfax news agency said.
Kulikov’s outburst Wednesday was the latest barb in the verbal feud he and Lebed have held for months over the war in Chechnya.
Lebed has blamed Kulikov for Russia’s failure in the war and demanded his ouster. Kulikov has accused Lebed of ``a maniacal striving for power″ and ``high treason″ for signing a peace accord with Chechen rebels fighting for independence.
On Tuesday, Lebed told parliament that Kulikov was among those responsible for prolonging the bloody war, and the interior minister retaliated Wednesday by accusing Lebed of the mutiny plot.
Lebed, popular with ordinary Russians, has been seeking control over the so-called ``power ministries.″ Those include Kulikov’s Interior Ministry, which has tens of thousands of troops at its disposal and is in charge of police and some elite paramilitary forces.