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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

America Finds Lebed Is No Colin Powell

One of Bill Clinton's better-informed friends told the U.S. president over the weekend that retired general Alexander Lebed's decision to join the Yeltsin government had sealed Clinton's re-election.

So keen are the Clintonites to see good news from Russia that Lebed, one of the toughest products of the Soviet army, is now being transformed in the public perception into a centrist-minded democrat, a Russian version of Colin Powell. America's leading Russian scholars, such as the Librarian of Congress James Billington, have been arguing for months that Russian needs a moderate and healthy nationalism as a stabilizing political force.

For many in Washington, Lebed seems to fit the bill, with the added bonus that the retired general has said he does not much care whether NATO is expanded. If NATO wants to spend all that money, Lebed grunts in that gruff, soldierly way that American civilians rather admire, it's up to them.

So it was very odd for Lebed to spoil much of his very favorable public image in the United States by sending Vladimir Titov to Washington to explain the general's view of world affairs to the think tanks and Kremlin-watchers.

The Titov version of General Lebed's world view contained four elements that have raised eyebrows in Washington, which is starting to ask some very urgent questions about the man who now seems to run Russia's national security council, its Defense Ministry, its intelligence operations and even large sectors of internal security.

First, Titov said General Lebed does not really approve of the START-II treaty to cut nuclear arsenals on both sides.

Second, Lebed apparently does not think Russia has anything to fear from China, and is not too disturbed by reports that his Defense Ministry is hoping to sell some MIRV technology from the S-18 heavy missiles to Beijing. If China is moving anywhere, it is heading south, which means a geo-strategic headache for the United States.

Third, Russian sales of weaponry and nuclear technology to Iran do not worry Lebed in the least. Should they ever be misused for terrorist purposes, Russia is unlikely to be the target, so why worry?

Fourth, while General Lebed believes that strategic nuclear weapons will continue to keep the peace for the next 50 years, he denies the Russians are spending anything on modernizing the strategic arsenal. He accepted that work was still in progress on the Topol M-2 missile, which is a refinement of the road-mobile SS-25, but insisted that this was "just leftovers" from old research.

There are people in the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency who worry long and hard about the Topol M-2, and about the alleged new Severodinsk class of very quiet nuclear submarines, which the American hunter-killer subs are not sure they can hear. There are also some disturbing intelligence rumbles about a new generation of miniaturized tactical nuclear weapons being developed.

If Titov's Washington trip was meant to reassure the Americans about General Lebed, it seems to have had a rather different effect. He did, however, delight the hawks and Reagan-era veterans. They now see General Lebed's new prominence justifying more U.S. spending on anti-ballistic missile defenses, and on even more of the hyper-modern Seawolf submarines.