Yeltsin Fires Top Generals, Clearing House for Lebed
MOSCOW (AP) _ Boris Yeltsin struck the latest blow today in an intense Kremlin power struggle, firing a group of generals that his new security chief, Alexander Lebed, had accused of trying to pressure the president.
The seven generals were close to former Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, who was sacked when Lebed was named head of the influential Security Council last week and given oversight of Russia’s armed forces and police.
The president also dismissed two top Security Council officials today.
The firings came amid campaigning for runoff presidential elections July 3 between Yeltsin and Communist challenger Gennady Zyuganov.
A tough-talking former general himself, Lebed won his new post after placing third in the first round of Russia’s presidential elections June 16.
Immediately after Lebed’s appointment, he accused high-ranking officials in the Defense Ministry of trying to pressure Yeltsin, even suggesting they were plotting a coup.
Yeltsin added to Lebed’s duties today by appointing him chairman of the government’s commission on senior military personnel, which proposes high-ranking military appointments.
Grachev was a long-time commander of Lebed, but mounting conflicts between them eventually prompted Lebed to quit the army last year.
One of the ousted officers, Col. Gen. Dmitry Kharchenko, expressed surprise at his dismissal. ``I didn’t expect such a turn of events,″ Kharchenko told the Interfax news agency.
Meanwhile, Zyuganov today defended his recent proposal for a coalition government, which was mocked by Russian newspapers and analysts alike as a proposal from a loser.
Zyuganov, who is sagging in the polls against Yeltsin, said Monday the Communists wanted to form a coalition government made up of the nation’s leading political forces to prevent economic collapse and civil unrest.
``Our proposal was made after thorough consultations with government and regional leaders,″ a defiant Zyuganov said today. ``I could see that they share our views, and so far none of them has refused″ to join.
But the daily Izvestia ran pictures today of unwilling potential partners in the coalition on its front page, along with their refusals, and called Zyuganov’s idea a ``fantasy.″
``Panic in the Leftist Camp″ the newspaper Rossiiskiye Vesti scoffed on its front page. It said the proposal was clear signal Zyuganov thinks he’ll lose the runoff.
Zyuganov snapped back, ``Only stupid people could write like that.″
He remained confident of success, insisting that the Communists could pick up at least 5 percent more of the vote in next week’s balloting. Yeltsin outpolled him 35 percent to 32 percent.
The officers fired today include Col. Gen. Viktor Barynkin, first deputy director of the general staff, and Col. Gen. Anatoly Bogdanov and Col. Gen. Vyacheslav Zherebtsov, both deputy directors of the general staff.
Also sacked were Lt. Gen. Sergei Zdorikov, a close associate of Grachev; Col. Gen. Valery Lapshov, head of Grachev’s administration; and Lt. General Vladimir Shulikov, arms chief for the ground forces.
In the Security Council, Yeltsin removed Vladimir Rubanov, who had close ties to the powerful military-industrial complex, and Alexander Troshin, both deputy secretaries, the presidential press service said.
Also today, Yeltsin said he would not invite reformer Anatoly Chubais back into government if the president wins re-election, the Argumenty i Fakty newspaper reported. Chubais was ousted as privatization chief in earlier this year and has run Yeltsin’s campaign since March.