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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Outspoken Lebed Will Lose Job in Reshuffle

KISHINYOV, Moldova -- A top general who has described President Boris Yeltsin as a "minus" and held up Chile's former strongman Augusto Pinochet as an example for Russia is set to lose his job in a military shake-up, his aide said Thursday.


Colonel Mikhail Bergman said the Defense Ministry had decided to disband Russia's 14th army stationed in Moldova's breakaway Dnestr region and commanded by General Alexander Lebed.


The army will be transformed into the 59th division of the Russian armed forces. Lebed would therefore lose his post automatically and a lower-ranking officer would be put in charge of the division, Bergman said.


"Lebed will not return to Tiraspol (the Dnestr capital)," he quoted Colonel General Eduard Vorobyov, deputy commander of Russia's Land Forces, as saying Wednesday.


Vorobyov, who visited the Dnestr region and met top officers of the 14th army and regional officials, said the decision had been taken by Defense Minister Pavel Grachev.


Lebed himself, now on holiday in Moscow, told Itar-Tass: "I will not stay in the armed forces for long if I am removed from my post. Apparently it is in someone's interests."


The Defense Ministry declined to comment.


Lebed, in an interview last month with Izvestia, painted a picture of the military in disarray and a nation inviting hostility from neighbors by its weakness.


Asked who he would like to see as president, Lebed replied: "I don't see anyone." All leading politicians, including his current supreme commander Yeltsin, were "minuses."


"The interview with Izvestia was the last drop and triggered reprisals against Lebed," said Bergman.


Lebed said in the interview he did not generally support Pinochet, who seized power in a 1973 coup, but praised his role in silencing "loudmouths" and establishing order and discipline.


Lebed, popular in the armed forces, said he did not want to be president but the post of defense minister was not beyond his ambitions.


A senior general said after the interview that Russia's military leadership did not share Lebed's views but a Defense Ministry spokesman said at the time he expected no problems for the general following his remarks.


Russia and Moldova are negotiating the dates and terms of the 14th army withdrawal from Moldova. The next round of talks is set for next week.


The problem for Moldovan authorities is that most of the officers in the army are Dnestr residents and it is possible that they would resign from the withdrawing Russian army and pledge loyalty to Dnestr leader Igor Smirnov.


This would strengthen Smirnov's position in his bargaining with Kishinyov. Predominantly Russian-speaking Dnestr wants Moldova to be turned into a confederation. Kishinyov rejects this and has offered special status to the region.


The departure of Lebed is sure to be welcomed by Smirnov and other pro-communist Dnestr leaders whom the general had accused of corruption.