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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Will Lebed Lead the Leader?

A little arithmetic, if we can bear it, to try to unpick the secrets of the first round of voting on Sunday and study the runes for the next one.


On Sunday the Communists picked up very slightly less than their solid core vote of 24 million votes. They failed to make a breakthrough from the position they won in the parliamentary elections and every new vote from now on will have to be won with blood and sweat. Grigory Yavlinsky found half a million more votes than he had in the December parliamentary elections (with every election he acquires 500,000 more votes, at which rate he could be elected president by the age of 75). Boris Yeltsin swept through the center ground, gathered the non-Yavlinsky reformist vote and a handy slice of people who did not vote at all in December.


The only surprises were the dent in support for Vladimir Zhirinovsky and the surge for Alexander Lebed. The 2.5 million or so voters Zhirinovsky has lost since December probably went to Lebed, as did three million former supporters of the Congress of Russian Communities and the 700,000 people who backed film-maker Stanislav Govorukhin.


But that still leaves four million new Lebed voters. Who are they?


I don't believe that they are Communist defectors. Gennady Zyuganov made the strong showing he was expected to in the "Red Belt" region, painting the oblasts red from Lipetsk to Belgorod. As expected his stolid, loyal voters turned out in force. They had neither the inclination nor the imagination to contemplate anything other than voting for Zyuganov.


Curiously enough I believe many of them are floating voters who had been thinking of backing Yeltsin. I base that on an unscientific straw poll of voters in Yekaterinburg last week. It was becoming increasingly obvious that Lebed was making a late surge. Several people said they had switched allegiances from Yeltsin to Lebed. Presented with two fighting politicians of similar character, they were deciding to back the younger one.


If that is true, it could explain the dip in opinion poll ratings for Yeltsin in the last week of the campaign. Some of his "softest" supporters had jumped ship and joined the Lebed camp.


This is rather ironic considering the fairly active support the Yeltsin campaign team were giving to Lebed in the final days of the first round. Suddenly "Truth and Order?" posters were everywhere, Lebed was all over prime time television and had become the best chum of Yevgeny Kiselyov on "Itogi." His campaign headquarters in central Moscow was well-equipped with the best that money could offer.


If that was the plan, the Yeltsin campaign staff ended up over-fulfilling it. Having decided he was their man and they wanted to him to earn a solid third place, he ended up not with the 10-12 percent they had anticipated but with a thumping 14.7 percent of the vote, trimming some of Boris Nikolayevich's lead.


Initially it did not seem to matter, however, because the general was now firmly on side. The floating votes that drifted to Lebed will now bob back to Yeltsin and if the turnout is sufficiently high Yeltsin can be sure of re-election.


But the fact is, the force of those extra millions of votes has given Lebed real clout and he now poses a substantial threat to some long-established Kremlin courtiers.


There has been something rather menacing in Lebed's performance all week. He said he was for the "new idea" that had succeeded Communism, but it was being executed dreadfully. So was he firmly behind Yeltsin now, he was asked? He was behind the commander-in-chief, no matter who he was, he said. Would Oleg Lobov carry on dealing with Chechnya? Yes, until Lebed found time to start taking care of it.


This was not the behavior of a man who is just going to slot loyally into the Kremlin team and start saying "Absolutely, Boris Nikolayevich." Besides, he does not drink.


This independent streak was clear when he started talking about the coup plot in the Defense Ministry. It was dramatically evident when he had his forehead-to-forehead collision with Alexander Korzhakov and Mikhail Barsukov.


In other words, the Kremlin has helped equip the general for battle and helped him recruit a substantial army. Most of that army will now march behind the president, but who knows what its new commander will decide in the future?