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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moldova Pullout Pact Unrealistic, Says Lebed

TIRASPOL, Moldova -- General Alexander Lebed, the commander of Russia's 14th Army based in Moldova, says he thinks that an agreement for withdrawal of his troops is unrealistic.

"I am not a member of the delegation which negotiated this deal but I want you to know that in my opinion it is unrealistic and little more than an attempt to win time to think through a better solution," the outspoken Lebed said in an interview.

The deal between Moldova and Russia was signed in Moscow on Friday. It obliges Russia to withdraw 14th Army troops and weapons based in Moldova's breakaway Transdnestr region within three years.

The agreement was initiated by Moldovan authorities, many of whom describe Russia's army as little more than an occupying force.

The Moldovan president, Mircea Snegur said earlier this month during a visit to Kiev that "the 14th Army is the last Russian army located on the territory of a foreign state, with the exception of peacekeeping missions governed by mutual agreement. The constitution of Moldova forbids the basing of the army of a foreign state in Moldova."

Lebed and his men view matters differently. More than half the officers in the 14th Army are local -- ethnic Slavs, born and raised in Moldova. Many say they are happy to serve on land they consider home.

There is fear as well that, if they pull out, families and friends will fall victim to a new round of inter-ethnic fighting between Transdnestr's ethnic Slavs, and ethnic Romanians elsewhere in Moldova. Skirmishes two years ago left hundreds dead.

The men themselves have put their faith in Lebed to safeguard their future. Lebed has displayed a keen understanding of his men's problems. Over coffee and cookies at the army's Transdnestrian headquarters, Lebed explained Friday why the army wants to stay put. "What you have here is a full strength Russian army made up of men originally from this region," he said. "You must understand this. They're Russian, but they were born here. They have apartments here and jobs, but back in Russia they have nothing."

In Russia, some army officers who have returned from foreign duty have been stranded without homes and are forced to live in tents. Lebed is personally overseeing the construction of 500 apartments for officers of the 14th Army and their families. It is a personal touch which has won the general widespread popularity among his men.

"General Lebed helped me get this flat," deputy warrant officer Vladimir Karchevskyi said. "He is a good man," he added.

The residents of Transdnestr also like the Russian general. They elected him to the local parliament, although he declined to accept his seat.

In Russia, opinion polls indicate that Lebed could have a political future as a presidential candidate. It is a prospect which has left some officials concerned. Lebed himself denies any overt political ambitions but has said he would not exclude a role in politics.