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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'I Am Not a Monster,' Lebed Tells Business Leaders in U.S.

WASHINGTON -- Russian general-turned-politician Alexander Lebed wrapped up a five-day visit to the United States on Friday by assuring several hundred U.S. business leaders: "I am not a monster and a loose cannon. I do not bite.''


Candidly discussing his determination to win Russia's next presidential election, the flamboyant Lebed said he hopes his first trip to the United States -- the country he spent most of his adult life preparing to fight -- will reassure Americans that he will cooperate with them if he gains power.


"I hope I have removed the grounds for calling me anti-Semitic, ultranationalistic and disdainful of organized religion,'' Lebed said in a speech to the U.S.-Russia Business Council, referring to some of his controversial statements.


For the Clinton administration, the visit by Lebed was something of a hot potato: what to do with a man who has just been fired by Russian President Boris Yeltsin, still an American favorite, but who might, in time, win the presidency for himself?


The administration applied a formula that its predecessors had used in similar circumstances -- it assigned a senior, although not too senior, official to meet him and then sent him on his way.


On Thursday, Lebed met for about an hour with John Herbst, the deputy chief of the State Department bureau that deals with Russia and the other former Soviet republics. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, a top Russia expert, dropped by but did not stay long.


In the only public appearance of his visit, Lebed said he has been subjected to an "information vacuum'' by the Russian media and television since his ouster from the Kremlin. But he said he intends to attract attention back home by making news abroad.


In the speech to the business council, Lebed's priority was to reassure business leaders that U.S.-Russia relations will be in safe hands if he wins the next presidential election. He called for steps to improve the Russian business climate, cut taxes and crack down on gangsters.