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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Making Of Russia's Star General In Kremlin

The meteoric rise of retired General Alexander Lebed began only a few months ago with the help of a few new and unlikely friends.


The charismatic paratroop general, of course, goes much further back than that as a popular public figure, starting in 1992 with his successful intervention to stop an inter-ethnic conflict in the breakaway Moldovan region of Transdniester.


But Lebed's initial steps in the realm of politics were unsteady, and the campaign that has catapulted him into a powerful position in the Kremlin was begun as recently as April by a team of advisers put together by an official in the pro-Yeltsin Our Home Is Russia party.


The first clear step of Lebed's political career was his decision to resign from the army in June 1995. He then wandered a short while in the wilderness before hooking up with a hitherto inconsequential group called the Congress of Russian Communities, or KRO.


It looked like a good choice. KRO had just been co-opted by the veteran Kremlin insider Yury Skokov, who virtually invented the job Lebed has just landed as a result of his stunning third-place in first round presidential elections. Skokov was the first secretary of President Boris Yeltsin's Security Council.


Together, it seemed, the two were destined to go to the top, harnessing together Lebed's a rivalry at the top that prevented Lebed from fronting the campaign.


Lebed, who got into the Duma on a single mandate ticket, said in the wake of the KRO fiasco that he would "try to make a pact" with the Communists, who had swept the nation.


But seven months later, not only is Lebed emerging as one of the most powerful men in Russia, he has also joined forces with Yeltsin -- enemy of the Communists.


Lebed's presidential campaign started small. He had to collect 1 million signatures to earn his place on the ballot and Vladimir Klimov, press secretary for the Lebed campaign, said that, together, members of KRO, the allied Democratic Party of Russia and a group made up of ex-military officers called Chest i Rodina (Honor and Motherland), gathered them for him.


Still, after the December State Duma disaster, few people expected much of Lebed in the June 16 presidential vote.


Enter Alexei Golovkov, deputy chairman of the State Duma's budget committee and a member of Our Home Is Russia, the pro-Yeltsin party headed by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.


Golovkov, who served as a government official back when Yegor Gaidar was acting prime minister, could not be reached for comment for this article. But several people involved in the Lebed campaign said he was responsible for drawing an all-new team together.


"The main work began, of course, with the agitation stage," Gennady Tupikin, head of Lebed's campaign team, told the weekly Kapital. "Here, everything was done by Alexei Golovkov's team. He himself offered his services to Alexander Ivanovich [Lebed]."


One member of the team was Leonid Razikhovsky, who wrote Lebed's campaign manifesto.


"I was invited into Lebed's campaign by State Duma deputy Golovkov ... in March, if I'm not mistaken, or maybe even in April," Razikhovsky told The Moscow Times. "I wrote several campaign texts, including [Lebed's] manifesto 'Truth and Order,' as well as the texts for several television clips."


According to Razikhovsky, Golovkov last March also brought economist Vitaly Naishul, director of the Institute of National Models of the Economy, into the campaign. Naishul, he said, provided the main inspiration for "Truth and Order."


Naishul was an interesting choice. He is a scholar who shares Lebed's concerns with the need to fight corruption and crime. But unlike economist Sergei Glazyev, a leader in KRO and Lebed's main economic adviser during last year's parliamentary contest, Naishul is a free-marketeer.


"Freedom and Order," therefore, received praise from liberals such as Izvestia's Otto Latsis.


As circumstantial evidence, the choice of Naishul fits neatly with the belief, expressed privately by virtually every political analyst in Moscow since June 16, that Lebed's campaign was tolerated, encouraged and even funded by the Kremlin.That impression was strengthened toward the end of the campaign, when Lebed ads as slick as Yeltsin's flooded the airwaves.


Mikhail Gorbachev recently claimed publicly that the Yeltsin campaign funded Lebed's election effort. As a result the ex-general has threatened to sue the ex-Soviet leader.


Tupikin, however, said Yeltsin did pursue a strategy of not "disturbing" or "opposing" the "natural growth in the authority and image" of Lebed.


"In the last stage Alexander Ivanovich often flashed by on the TV screen, because there were simply fewer obstacles," he said. "There was no special regime of doing favors, but if we asked for air time and we had the money, then he appeared on the air without obstacles. The plan of Boris Yeltsin's team to not put special obstacles in the way of the appearance of Alexander Ivanovich played a positive role."


As for what happens next and what Lebed will stand for, Naishul again is interesting. The economist detailed his vision for Russia's future in a treatise published in the daily Segodnya on May 23, spelling out a model for the Russian state which blends quasi-authoritarian political institutions with the economic approaches of Friedreich Hayek and Milton Friedman.


He advocates an authoritarian political order based on ancient Russian traditions, coupled with modern capitalism. He opposes representative parliamentary democracy, on the one hand, and trade protectionism and high taxes, on the other.


For both Naishul and Lebed, the starting point for such a project is the imposition of order on an economy strangled by bureaucratic corruption and organized crime. It is a model not unlike the one followed by Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, whom Lebed once said he admired


At a press conference Monday, Naishul said that five years of reform in Russia had seen the "spontaneous growth of a new economic and state arrangement," but that it was now time to impose "order."


To achieve this, he said, will require "a powerful structure that would stand above officialdom" which will have to undertake "much tougher measures than those that were used in many other countries."


Yet if Naishul was the intellectual force behind Lebed's campaign platform, it is not clear that his influence will follow the former general into government unchallenged.


While no longer officially connected with Lebed, KRO's Glazyev "maintains a working relationship with him, and consults and meets with him," said Igor Gansvin, Glazyev's press secretary. "At the same time, [Glazyev] has not gone into the Security Council or become and official adviser of Lebed. So far, at any rate."


In an interview with Moskovskiye Novosti this week, Lebed called Glazyev "highly-qualified" and "honest."


And the fact that Lebed apparently seriously considered an alliance with the victorious Communists last December suggests that his main operating principle when it comes to allies is flexibility.


The general's true allegiances, some say, lie elsewhere in any case.


"He has a team which has been with him for a long time," said Razikhovsky. "It's a group of officers who served with him in Tiraspol [capital of Transdniester]. They will probably go with him to the Security Council."