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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Let Chechnya Go, Lebed Advises

Russia's new security tsar Alexander Lebed said in a German magazine interview that the rebel republic of Chechnya should be given independence if it expresses the desire for it in a referendum.

"It's crazy to let an enclave exist in your own land whose population hates its so-called own country from the bottom of its heart, despises its laws and pays no taxes," Lebed told the newsweekly Der Spiegel, according to an advance release from Monday's edition.

He said Chechnya could initially be "made independent" of the Russian budget, allowing Russia to use the money it was putting into Chechnya to help refugees.

Asked if he was ready to give the Chechens full sovereignty, he answered:

"They should express their will in a referendum. If the people want independence, they should get it. One hundred and fifty years of Russian-Chechen relations have been at best latent hostility, and otherwise open war."

In line with his own election manifesto, Lebed promised he would reform the armed forces and tackle organized crime.

He said President Boris Yeltsin had given him a free hand in these areas, but added that he was asking for more powers for the two functions he now fulfills: secretary of the Security Council and national security adviser.

"As soon as I have these powers, the public will find out. Before then there's no point talking about it," he said.

Lebed said his ambition was by no means fulfilled with the appointments he had secured.

"It's an intermediate step. Now I have the opportunity of fulfilling my election promises: order in the country, security for the citizens. It's nice that I can make a start right away."

Lebed told Der Spiegel he favored including communists in a Russian coalition government.

"It's not very wise to give someone the opportunity constantly to criticize, without proving that they can do a better job. If the communists really are more concerned than others about the welfare of the workers, they should be allowed to fill the job of minister of labor and social affairs."

Yeltsin has spoken of Lebed as a possible president after the year 2000, when the four-year term of office of either Yeltsin or his communist challenger in next month's election runoff, Gennady Zyuganov, will expire.

Asked if he saw himself as president in the year 2000, Lebed laconically replied: "Perhaps sooner."

Lebed's confidence has already earned him a rebuke from the head of government. The gruff general told supporters Saturday that the country faced an "impending financial crisis in September-October."

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, at a press conference the same day, bristled at the remarks.

"I think Alexander Ivanovich [Lebed] has only just arrived and when he learns more about the overall situation in the economy, he won't have this idea."

Lebed also said Saturday that he favored Colonel General Igor Rodionov as the country's new defense minister to replace sacked General Pavel Grachev.

"[Rodionov] is an outstanding elite general, a worthy and glorious man," Lebed told a news conference.

It was not clear from Lebed's remarks whether he had suggested Rodionov formally to Yeltsin.