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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lebed Fires Back at 'Barking' Of Critics

With a mounting chorus of attacks on his presidential ambitions and his Chechen peace deal coming from Moscow, security chief Alexander Lebed on Tuesday brushed his critics aside and completed a visit to NATO headquarters in Belgium.

"The dog barks. The caravan passes," the gruff ex-paratrooper was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Lebed, who is viewed as a major contender for the presidency when it becomes vacant, used his visit to NATO, his first outside the former Soviet bloc, as a chance to strike the figure of a world statesman, reviewing troops and chatting with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana.

But he has come under fire from several sides during his absence, with the focus switching Tuesday to the Federation Council or upper house of Russian parliament, where Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov, another presidential hopeful, launched a blistering attack.

Lebed broke into his diplomatic duties to fight back Tuesday against Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov, who earlier this week accused Lebed of selling Russia out in Chechnya and using organized crime to broker the Khasavyurt peace agreement he signed with the Chechen delegation Aug. 31.

Lebed labeled Kulikov's latest assault as a helpless assassination of character made by an incompetent field commander.

"Certain statesmen bearing personal responsibility [for the war effort] are trying to justify their impotence," Lebed was quoted as saying by The Washington Post. drew a parallel between Lebed and Stalin, who, Luzhkov said, operated under the "no person, then no problem" principle.

"There is a man in a cap, there is a problem. No man, no problem. No opponent, nothing but a clean field. Is that normal?" demanded Luzhkov, who often appears in public in his trademark black leather hat.

He also slammed Lebed, who openly admitted he wants to be president, for unethically running a campaign while President Boris Yeltsin is preparing for difficult heart surgery, adding that the general should play no future role in Chechen peace negotiation.

"In his situation it is in principle wrong to hold conversations such as Lebed is having after already declaring his candidacy," Luzhkov said in the interview.

Lebed has been acting as the president's Chechen envoy for the past two months.

Luzhkov elaborated his attack against Lebed's Khasavyurt agreement during a Tuesday appearance before the Federation Council, whose special committee on Chechnya had earlier in the day ruled that the pact was "not judicially sound."

"[Khasavyurt] places a huge bomb under the Russian constitution," the mayor said, according to Interfax. "We need to get away from a situation where peace negotiations are handled by a single person."

The Federation Council, which reconvened Tuesday after its summer break, passed a resolution damning Lebed's Khasavyurt agreement with faint praise.

The resolution said the deal indicated that both sides in the conflict wanted a peaceful settlement, but stressed that Chechnya was part of Russia, undermining a clause in the Khasavyurt deal that puts on hold for five years the question of Chechnya's sovereignty.

Also Tuesday, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who analysts say is not a member of the so-called "Kremlin party of war," confirmed that he does not think Lebed's Khasavyurt agreement is a legally binding document.

"There have been no agreements on Chechnya, no one has signed any agreements," he was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Lebed, who recently made a number of shuttle trips to the republic and has developed a good working relationship with Chechen chief of staff Aslan Maskhadov, has said the safest way to keep Chechnya in the Russian fold was to issue significant monetary aid to the war-ravaged territory.

In an address to the State Duma last week, Lebed said Russia is obliged to help Chechnya since it is still a member of the Russian Federation.

But that point was disputed by the Duma's deputy speaker, Alexander Shokhin, a member of Chernomyrdin's "Our Home Is Russia" faction.

Funding to the republic "should not resemble reparations or contributions," but might be channeled to the region "through foreign firms," Shokhin was quoted by Interfax as saying.

On Monday, Shokhin warned that in the future Lebed also intends to extend his control to the economy, placing it in the purview of the Security Council he controls.

"If the Chechen crisis is settled successfully, Lebed will get down to the economy," he told Interfax.

Perhaps the lone voice of sympathy for Lebed's political efforts came from former presidential adviser Otto Latsis, who labeled the recent attacks on the Security Council secretary a "witch-hunt."

"As soon as Lebed had left Moscow for NATO headquarters, dirty accusations, directly or indirectly linked to him, started spilling out as if from the holes in a sack," Latsis wrote in Izvestia.