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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lebed Accused of Armed Coup Plot

A struggle for power among the Kremlin's barons burst into open warfare Wednesday, when Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov accused Russia's ambitious security chief, Alexander Lebed, of plotting a military coup.

Kulikov outlined an alleged plan by Lebed to create his own Russian Legion, a proposed military force numbering up to 50,000 men, at a press conference supposedly devoted to the conflict in Chechnya.

He also charged that Chechen separatists had promised Lebed 1,500 gunmen to help seize power.

"Alexander Ivanovich Lebed has made a final decision to proceed in the near future with the use of force, without waiting for the presidential elections of 2000," Kulikov said.

Those charges led Boris Yeltsin's spokesman to say the president was "extraordinarily upset" and had demanded a detailed report on the substance of Kulikov's charges from both the interior minister and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.

Lebed responded swiftly Wednesday, calling an impromptu 10 p.m. press conference at which he hotly denied Kulikov's allegations and said they were directed not only against himself, but against the institution of presidential power.

"There can be no military coup in the country," a confident Lebed told reporters at the press conference. But on Wednesday Kulikov repeated several times -- both at his press conference and later in an interview on NTV Independent Television -- that Lebed was trying to seize power by force, and that Kulikov and Defense Minister Igor Rodionov had become "obstacles in that path." Lebed had criticized Rodionov on Tuesday.

This latest blast from Kulikov merely caps a series of previous unbridled attacks on Lebed, who last summer had accused the interior minister of bungling the war in Chechnya and had asked Yeltsin to choose who he wanted to keep -- his Security Council secretary or his interior minister.

Wednesday night, Lebed went further, saying Kulikov was responsible for atrocities in Chechnya and specifically had set up concentration camps in which thousands of people died.

He added that Kulikov's press conference was part of a "hidden power struggle" conducted primarily by the presidential administration -- which Chubais heads. Lebed went on to predict that a decree would soon be prepared dismissing Federal Security Service director Nikolai Kovalyov and 30 other top security service generals, based on compromising materials prepared by Kulikov.

Kulikov said at the press conference he had ordered that security in Moscow and the rest of the country to be tightened as of Wednesday night to prevent possible Chechen terrorist attacks, giving a sense of urgency to his charges.

He alleged that Lebed had proposed a "Russian Legion," composed of up to 50,000 men, which would be used for combatting extremist, terrorist, separatist and "other" groups threatening national security. Its methods, he added, would include the "liquidation" of their political and military leaders, he said, reading from the document.

He added that this new armed force was to include spetsnaz special forces from all branches of Russia's power ministries, special forces veterans who had served in "hot spots," Cossacks forces and even Serbian veterans of the war in Bosnia.

"You can judge for yourself how many people can meet that description," said Kulikov.

Lebed, at his press conference, countered that the document Kulikov was reading from was just one among many proposals that have passed through the Security Council and that it was neither stamped, signed nor agreed upon.

Kulikov, however, said that on Aug. 21, Lebed's deputy Vladimir Denisov had sent out instructions "to start forming, on the basis of interior troops and the armed forces, a reserve force."

Lebed told Interfax he had ordered the interior and defense ministries to create a single reserve brigade, numbering 3,000 to 3,500 men, and that Mikhail Kolesnikov, chief of the armed forces' general staff, had said he could create such a force by 1999.

Kulikov also accused Lebed of attempting to create a "parallel general staff," under the guise of the Security Council's Interim Working Group for Settling the Crisis in the Chechen Republic, for the purpose of wresting control over the armed forces from the Defense Ministry.

Kulikov said Lebed had been sounding out the armed forces to ascertain their mood and how they would react in extreme circumstances, and that it was possible that the Security Council had been the source of recent rumors that Yeltsin had died.

To back up his claims concerning Lebed's ambitions, Kulikov cited a Western press interview in which Lebed predicted he would "become president of the country before the constitutional term."

"It is clear that this can be achieved only by anti-constitutional means -- by means of a mutiny," Kulikov said, calling his press conference "a serious warning."

"So, what is in store for the peoples of Russia if Lebed comes to power by way of a creeping coup d'etat? I do not think that it is difficult to picture this."

Lebed said he would sue Kulikov over the allegations. "I don't need his money, received from bribes, therefore I will evaluate my suit at 1 ruble, and I will win that ruble, which will be dear to my memory," the ex-paratroop general said.

Lebed denied rumors he is planning to resign and said he believed Kulikov's position would suffer from his latest outburst. According to Russian media reports, Lebed had reportedly sent Yeltsin a letter Monday asking for a vacation, but his request had been rejected.

State Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov said Kulikov's charges against Lebed left the impression of a "practical joke," Interfax quoted him as saying. If the charges were true, "the president and the prosecutor's office should know about it," Seleznyov told reporters.