. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Grozny Shaken by Sacking of Lebed

GROZNY -- A top Chechen separatist said Thursday that President Boris Yeltsin's decision to sack security chief Alexander Lebed would have tragic consequences for Russia, Interfax reported.

Yeltsin sacked Lebed, architect of a delicate Chechen peace deal, in a bid to end a Kremlin power struggle which had pitted the former general against Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov.

"Lebed has become a sacrifice of the party of war [in the Kremlin] that wants to see a resumption of fighting in Chechnya," Interfax quoted rebel Chechen "foreign minister" Ruslan Chimayev as saying.

"The dismissal of Lebed will have tragic consequences for Russia," he said. Earlier on Thursday Lebed himself said he believed events in Chechnya would get worse following his departure from the powerful policy-making Security Council.

Asked by Ekho Moskvy radio whether he expected events in Chechnya to go according to "the worst possible scenario" after his dismissal, Lebed answered: "In all probability, yes."

However Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin vowed the Chechen peace process would go on regardless of the latest events in Moscow, adding that a joint commission was currently working in the region on how to implement the deal.

"I believe the peace process will continue as before. ... One man cannot change how such an important matter is handled," he told Russian television.

Lebed negotiated and signed the Chechen peace deal Aug. 31, and he was regarded by Chechen separatist leaders as the one Kremlin official they could trust.

Kulikov and others publicly blasted the deal, which postpones for five years a decision on the region's political status, saying it means caving in to separatist demands and marks a humiliating defeat for the Russian army.

On Wednesday, Kulikov accused Lebed of planning to seize power in Moscow with the help of 1,500 Chechen fighters. Lebed denies the charges. Speaking before Yeltsin's dramatic television announcement of Lebed's sacking, Chechen separatist chief of staff Aslan Maskhadov said Kulikov's remarks were absurd.

"We have no intention of getting involved in sorting out sordid squabbles in Moscow. We have enough on our plate," said Maskhadov, a co-signatory of Lebed's peace accord.

"We think that General Lebed is a realistic person who was the first to see that Russia and the people of Russia are in danger," he told Radio Russia.

"Kulikov, on the contrary, is a disgrace for the army and Russia," Maskhadov said.

In separate comments, he said Chechens would have to prepare for war if Lebed were removed "because you can expect anything from people like Kulikov."

Chechen rebel spokesman Movladi Udugov said he was confident Lebed would triumph over his political rivals.

"His opponents will fail because, according to our information, Lebed is very popular with the Russian people," Udugov said.

A recent opinion poll showed Lebed was the most trusted politician in Russia.

Tens of thousands of people, mainly civilians, died in the 21-month Chechen conflict launched in December 1994 when Russia sent troops to quell the southern region's independence bid.