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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lebed Takes Top Security Adviser Post

Within a day of being voted into the position of Russia's kingmaker, Alexander Lebed sided with President Boris Yeltsin on Tuesday, taking a job as the country's security tsar with the head of his old rival, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, as his price.


Lebed, who won 14.7 percent of the vote in Sunday's first-round presidential election, had made it clear already Monday night he would not join forces with Gennady Zyuganov ahead of the Communist Party leader's run-off election against Yeltsin.


But few anticipated he would move so quickly into the Yeltsin camp. There is no guarantee Lebed's 11 million voters will now turn out for Yeltsin -- Lebed said Tuesday he would not tell them who to back in the second-round vote -- but his support is an important boon for the president.


On Tuesday morning, Lebed, 46, appeared with Yeltsin in a Kremlin ceremony to announce he accepted a job as the president's security adviser and Security Council secretary, replacing Yury Baturin and Oleg Lobov, respectmvely.


Yeltsin called the event "the union of two politicians, two different programs. ... The pro "I was facing two ideas -- an old one that has shed lots of blood and the new one which is being implemented very badly at the moment but has a future. ... I have chosen the new idea."


The general's new position has no clear constitutional powers, but Lebed said he had received special powers that effectively make him overlord for security and military affairs. He said he had already begun "consultations" on the appointment of a new defense minister.


Lebed's brief, according to Yeltsin, is to handle military reform and the battles with crime and corruption.


On Tuesday, Chief of the General Staff Mikhail Kolesnikov was appointed acting defense minister for the interim. Two prominent names -- that of former commander of the Soviet forces in Afghanistan Boris Gromov and of former deputy defense minister Valery Mironov -- have been floated for the job. Both men fell into disfavor for opposing the war in Chechnya.


Lebed also wasted no time dealing with his rivals in Yeltsin's administration. Having persuaded the president to fire his longest serving minister, Grachev, he then appeared to set about purging Grachev's henchmen.


Lebed, whom Grachev effectively forced into retirement a year ago, accused five generals and Grachev's secretary of plotting a "GKchP III" -- a reference to the acronym for the emergency committee that attempted a coup in August 1991.


He said the plotters had tried to persuade Grachev "to put troops on alert and thus apply pressure on the president." Later, he stressed that this was not an attempted coup, but an attempt to pressure Yeltsin into keeping Grachev.


"I believe the gentlemen who engaged in this this morning will have to present their requests of resignation to the acting defense minister," Lebed said. "Let them devote their time to angling, to growing of strawberries and to recollections of how foolish they were."


During a press conference Tuesday, Lebed outlined his plans for reorganizing the Security Council, saying that all appointments to the body's various departments, along with changes in their structure and functions, would be coordinated with him.


Yeltsin will soon sign a decree expanding the powers of the Security Council secretary, Interfax reported Tuesday.


Lebed will thus be able to "influence military reform and the fight against crime and corruption" directly through the "power ministries" -- the defense and interior ministries, and the security services -- the news agency quoted a source close to Yeltsin as saying.


Yet some experts questioned how much power Lebed will have in his new government posts, given the Security Council is a consultative body headed by the Russian president.


"Its constitutional task is to assist the president to work out and take important decisions," said Alexander Konovalev of the USA/Canada Institute. "It is generally believed that he got control over the power ministries. I strongly doubt that that is so, but I strongly doubt that someone will explain it to him before the second round of presidential voting."


"These positions, while high up in the hierarchy, depend on Yeltsin, and Lebed's relations with Yeltsin," said Nikolai Petrov of the Moscow center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "He is not even as much an independent player as the minister of defense."


Regardless of what other titles Lebed may get, the tough general may find he is in for a struggle for which he may not be prepared.


"Genetically, he is born a military man, and not cut out for political intrigues," said Konovalev. "And that is why he may break his neck very quickly, trying to convince everybody he is the No. 1 figure, that he is the real acting president."


He was certainly acting the part Tuesday when he made sure five generals in the Defense Ministry would soon be out of a job.


Lebed said during an interview with NTV Independent Television that the five generals, Grachev's secretary Yelena Agapova and Georgia's Defense Minister Variko Nadebaidze had gathered in a Defense Ministry room between 9 and 10 a.m. and urged Grachev to put the troops on alert.


Lebed gave the last names of the generals allegedly involved -- Barynkin, Shulikov, Sidnov, Kharchenko and Lapshov -- but not their full names or positions.


He said he did not know exactly what the plotters were planning, but that he took "preventative" measures to prevent a "conflict."


"I gave a command to the general on duty of the central command point of the General Staff, prohibiting him from transmitting any orders of the defense minister to the troops," Lebed said.


"I drove to the headquarters of the Moscow Military District. ... From there, a telegram with my signature was sent. The sense of the telegram was my appointment and the removal of Grachev, with a request to the troops to remain calm and continue their planned military operative training."


He said he visited the headquarters of various military units, all of which supported him.


Asked about Lebed's claims, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said Tuesday he "had heard nothing about such a statement" and dismissed the idea that a coup had been attempted as "nonsense," Interfax reported.


As for the fates of Grachev, Lobov and Baturin: Grachev is rumored to be headed for Brussels, as Russia's representative to NATO; Lobov has been made a first deputy prime minister; and Baturin was demoted to a bland presidential aide, Interfax reported.