Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lebed Stays As Chief of 14th Army

Alexander Lebed, Russia's most popular and outspoken general, received assurances Friday from Defense Minister Pavel Grachev that the 14th Army in the self-proclaimed Transdnestr Republic will retain its status and Lebed will remain its commander.

Lebed told The Moscow Times in a telephone interview that he was satisfied with the outcome of his conversation with Grachev, which ended a series of attempts by the Defense Ministry to remove him from his prominent post as commander of the Russian troops in Moldova.

"I am coming back to Tiraspol as commander of the 14th Army," he said. "The minister has finally received enough information to make a well-thought-out decision."

The Defense Ministry earlier had tried to reduce the status of the army to a mere division, saying the unit was understaffed, and thus make it necessary for Lebed to leave his post as commander. The ministry's order came while Lebed was on vacation and the general's subordinates responded by putting the army on combat alert.

Lebed said his removal from Transdnestr would unleash bloodshed in Moldova's rebellious region. President Boris Yeltsin echoed this concern in a public statement two weeks ago, saying Lebed was "great in keeping the situation under control."

Last Sunday, however, Lebed was called to Moscow to meet with Chief of the General Staff Mikhail Kolesnikov, who this week passed on to Lebed a request from the government of Tajikistan that he take over as that country's defense minister. Lebed turned down the offer.

"What does he have to do with that foreign country?" Lebed's closest aide Mikhail Bergman said by telephone from Tiraspol on Friday. "He's got people here in Transdnestr and he can't leave them like that."

The offer to move to Tajikistan appears to have been aimed at marginalizing Lebed politically, after he has made a series of provocative statements, including one suggesting that a military dictator might be good for Russia.

Lebed came back to Tiraspol from the meeting with Kolesnikov on Thursday, but was immediately called back to Moscow for talks with Grachev.

"His plane landed here at noon Thursday," Bergman said. "He hadn't even had the time to go home and change when he received the summons from Grachev."

"I don't understand what kind of game they are playing at the Defense Ministry," he added.

Lebed flew back to Moscow on Thursday night and met with the defense minister at 11 A.M. Friday.

Lebed said he might have to cut his staff by about 25 percent as a result of the meeting, but that the army would retain its status.

Defense Ministry spokesman Andrei Barkovsky confirmed this information.

"He is staying in Tiraspol," Barkovsky said. "But the 200 commanders he's got there are too many for the number of troops he has. I am sure he understands that himself."

Barkovsky said the earlier decision to demote the 14th Army had been "ill-considered."

"It was wrong to do that while Lebed was on vacation," he said.

Lebed, who earlier said the demotion plan was part of a conspiracy against him, said he had not bothered to find out who had wanted him removed.

"Having a lot of enemies is a matter of pride for a man," he said.