. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Guns Decisive Factor In Lebed Melodrama

The charge against security chief Alexander Lebed that he has been preparing an armed coup was doubtless a fabrication, but guns and who controls them were the bottom line in the power struggle he has fought -- and lost.

Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov's charge Wednesday that Lebed was trying to create his own 50,000-man Russian Legion and a "parallel general staff" was almost certainly a provocation first, a planned attack aimed at forcing Lebed's dismissal.

The attack, most analysts believe, was organized by presidential chief of staff Anatoly Chubais and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who saw the popular and ambitious ex-paratrooper-general as challenger for power who could not be domesticated.

But, as in previous power struggles in Russia, the question of who wins has been determined as much by who controls raw military power as by who has constitutional or bureaucratic clout.

Kulikov's theatrical charge of a coup plot reflected an overriding concern in the Kremlin about which armed forces were backing whom.

It was fitting, therefore, that Lebed's final day in office should have been marked by a meeting of the so-called "power ministers." That meeting with Kulikov, Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, Federal Security Service (FSB) director Nikolai Kovalyov and Federal Border Service director Andrei Nikolayev was a formal indication that Russia's power ministers supported Lebed's ouster, commentator Stepan Kiselyov writes in Friday's Izvestia.

At a little-noticed meeting Tuesday, Chubais met with Nikolayev alone. It now seems likely the presidential chief of staff was making sure Nikolayev was fully behind Lebed's removal.

Lebed had accepted a job in the Kremlin between the two rounds of last summer's elections on the understanding he would be granted overall control of the armed forces, the military, the security services and the border guards.

But the story of his time in office since has been one of struggle to secure any single part of that control. President Boris Yeltsin first dealt Lebed a crippling blow when he took from the general the right to make appointments to the Security Council. Still worse, he created a new Defense Council chaired by the prime minister, which effectively made the Security Council redundant.

But if Lebed could not control the institutions, perhaps he could win over the security ministers individually.

It soon became clear that Interior Minister Kulikov, whom Lebed blamed for the disastrous war in Chechnya, would be no ally.

As for the FSB, Lebed may have been looking for support there when he teamed up with Alexander Korzhakov, Yeltsin's former chief bodyguard, who had run his own private army in the Kremlin and strong ties with the FSB.

Lebed clearly believed the FSB chiefs were at least the enemies of his enemies. At his press conference Wednesday night, the general predicted that the next step on the part of his Kremlin opponents would be to sack the entire leadership of the FSB.

But it may have been the defection of Defense Minister Rodionov that sealed Lebed's fate. Lebed had every reason to hope Rodionov would be a strategic ally, as he had proposed him for the defense post in July. But on Tuesday it became clear the two had split when Lebed for the first time attacked Rodionov in public.

That left it Lebed's only option to appeal directly for support to the troops, just as he has appealed directly to the public for their affections during his efforts to end the war in Chechnya.

Lebed's most natural support was among the paratroopers, whom he used to command. And it was over these units that Lebed publicly split with Rodionov Tuesday, accusing the defense minister of effectively liquidating the airborne forces in a Sept. 24 instruction.

The deputy commander of the paratroopers, General Vladimir Kazantsev, echoed Lebed's position, and Thursday he too was sacked. But while Lebed clearly has lost the battle for control of the power ministries, Kiselyov writes in Izvestia that the sympathies of soldiers will be with Lebed and "God only knows," how these will be expressed.

An open letter to Rodionov from a "collective of officers" was published Thursday in Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

It told Rodionov to tell "those gentlemen behind the Kremlin walls" to pay the officers' August to October salaries before Oct. 25, or else be advised to "retreat" abroad.