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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Power Struggle Stops Short of Violence

As news of a showdown between new Security Council Secretary Alexander Lebed and powerful Presidential Security Chief Alexander Korzhakov came out Thursday morning, for a brief second it appeared that an internal Kremlin power struggle might once again turn into a street battle.


But if it had come to blows, how many troops did Korzhakov have at his disposal, where were they located, and would Lebed have been able to muster a force to match them?


Anatoly Chubais, President Boris Yeltsin's campaign adviser and one of the key figures in Thursday's events, specifically raised the threat of violence at a press conference.


Speaking just after Korzhakov, FSB chief Mikhail Barsukov and Deputy Prime Minster Oleg Soskovets had been fired, Chubais said, "If anyone among the dismissed leaders of the power structures gets in his head the crazy idea of using force, they will be suppressed by a single movement of General Lebed's little finger."


In fact, analysts said Thursday, it is not entirely clear which side would have won in an armed conflict but they stressed that such a scenario was always unlikely.


According to Alexander Zhilin, military analyst for the weekly Moscow News, Korzhakov's Presidential Security Service had a force of about 40,000 men in and around Moscow.


"Not all of these are troops in the traditional sense, but a large part of them are," he said. "They have armored personnel carriers, highly-trained uniformed special forces troops -- a significant force."


Korzhakov has flexed his muscle in public before, albeit on a smaller scale. On Dec. 2, 1994, he sent about 30 special forces troops in a raid on the downtown headquarters of MOST-Bank in what was widely perceived to be part of a power struggle between Korzhakov and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, with whom Most-Bank was closely linked.


Although he agreed that Korzhakov's force of men was "powerful," Andrei Piontkowsky, director of the Center for Strategic Studies, said that he did not believe Korzhakov had planned for an armed struggle.


"He and his troops were not prepared for a fight," he said. "A forcible takeover of power was not in his plans. I think he is surprised by what happened and did not at any point believe that Yeltsin would ever let him go."


In contrast with Korzhakov's force, sources said, the combined army and Interior Ministry force in the immediate region surrounding Moscow is about 50,000 men.


Aside from the Moscow police, that force is made up primarily of four major troop centers -- the Kantemirovskaya Army Division in the town of Naro-Fominsk, some 150 kilometers south of Moscow, the Tamanskaya Division in the town of Alabino, some 60 kilometers south of Moscow, the 1st Interior Ministry division in Balashikha, about 25 kilometers east of Moscow, and the 23rd Army brigade, in the Tyoply Stan region of Moscow.


Military troop divisions in Russia generally number about 10,000 to 12,000 men. A spokesman for the Moscow Military command, however, said that the two army bases in the region were "not at full strength" and that some of the soldiers normally assigned to the base were in Chechnya.


In October 1993, the Tamanskaya base and the 1st Interior Ministry base played key roles in Yeltsin's suppression of the rebellion at the old Supreme Soviet. The tanks which bombarded and encircled the White House were from the Tamanskaya base, while the curfew that was imposed around the city during the struggle was enforced primarily by troops from the 1st Interior Ministry base, which was then called the Dzerzhinsky division.


Where the army's support would have fallen if it had come to an armed struggle Thursday is also not clear, particularly since Colonel-General Leontiy Kuznetsov, commander of the Moscow military district, appeared to align himself with Korzhakov on May 7, publicly calling for the postponement of the presidential elections. His comments came just days after Korzhakov made similar statements.


However, Pavel Felgenhauer, a military analyst for Segodnya, said he did not believe that Korzhakov could have mustered any support among the army.


"Yeltsin is in charge. Korzhakov was just an employee in this sense. He would not have been able to order the army around against Yeltsin's will," he said, adding that it would in any case have taken days to organize a force of troops sufficient to impose a full curfew around the city.


Zhilin agreed, saying that he believed the local army bases would be inclined to support Lebed.


"The army leaders in the area seem to respect Lebed," he said. "I would think that had he given an order, they would have found it difficult to disobey, particularly if he made it in public."