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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Kulikov Must Go,' Lebed Tells Yeltsin

National security chief Alexander Lebed opened up a huge split in Russia's military power structure Friday, publicly demanding the sacking of Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov whom he blamed for Russia's military failures in Chechnya.


Lebed said that he had already asked President Boris Yeltsin, who has ultimate control over the military, to sack Kulikov, threatening that the president faced "a difficult choice."


"Only one can remain in this system, either Lebed or Kulikov," Lebed told reporters.


Lebed blamed Kulikov for two rebel attacks this year on Grozny, capital of the breakaway republic -- one in March as well as the latest attack that began Aug. 6 and that has left the rebels still in control of large parts of the city. "The interior minister of Russia has failed in discharging his duties," he said.


Lebed said during his press conference that 247 Russian servicemen have been killed and more than 1,000 wounded. Kulikov, he added, has "a Napoleon complex."


Lebed has already won out in a similar very public cabinet battle, claiming the scalp of former defense minister Pavel Grachev, whom Yeltsin sacked as soon as Lebed entered the government.


However, it was not clear Friday how far Lebed was prepared to go. He appeared to soften his line later in the press conference. "We don't need any resignations," he Lebed returned Friday from his second trip to the Chechen capital in a week. On Thursday, he met with Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev. While no formal cease-fire has been reached, there has been a lull in fighting in Grozny since Wednesday.


Lebed also announced the creation of a standing commission with both Russian and Chechen representatives to oversee progress toward a formal cease-fire.


For his part, Kulikov immediately denied Lebed's accusations, telling Interfax that they stemmed "from Lebed's maniacal desire to come to power and his insufficient knowledge of Chechnya's problems."


He said the rebel offensive in Grozny, which started Aug. 6, was the result of the weakness of the Russian authorities, not mistakes by the Interior Ministry.


Kulikov was reconfirmed as interior minister this week by Yeltsin, and was among those cabinet ministers presented Thursday by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.


Interfax, citing sources close to the prime minister, reported Friday that Chernomyrdin had been notified of Lebed's accusations, and was likewise aware of Kulikov's response.


Kulikov has been embarrassed by the latest rebel offensive on Grozny for which his interior ministry troops provided the main garrison. He defended himself in the State Duma by saying his troops were hampered by the lack of a formal state of emergency in Chechnya.


During his press conference, Lebed responded by asking why emergency rule had not been introduced earlier.


Lebed charged that Kulikov had dispatched agents to trail him, saying the interior minister "suspected at some point I would peek behind the screen [of Kulikov's failed policies]."


"From the very first days of our acquaintance there developed a very strange relationship," said Lebed. "I discovered that I was under surveillance. I enjoyed observing this for three days, but then I got tired of this and ordered that the sleuths be caught. And they were caught. It turned out they were from the Interior Ministry."


Lebed also said he had "hard information" that "acts of provocation" will be carried out in the near future on the border between Chechnya and the neighboring republic of Ingushetia.


"The purpose of these acts is to involve the federal forces and Ingushetia in the conflict, to preclude any role for [Ruslan] Aushev, president of Ingushetia, in the peace-making efforts," he said. Aushev, who this week publicly backed Lebed's new peace-making role, reportedly met with Lebed in Ingushetia.


Lebed said tlat Dagestan, which also borders Chechnya, could also become embroiled in the conflict.


Lebed made similar extravagant conspiracy allegations in his battle with Grachev. The day after Grachev's sackings, he charged that a group of pro-Grachev army generals had planned to launch a state of emergency to overthrow him.


Kulikov said Friday he would submit his resignation to Yeltsin rather than wait for the president to respond to Lebed's demand.


"I will not wait for a presidential decree," he told Interfax. "I myself will present resignation letter to the president. I shall probably write it today."


Kulikov charged that the Chechen rebels have used Lebed's negotiations to regroup militarily and to "close in" on their goal of independence. "We close our eyes to these facts due to insufficient knowledge of the separatists themselves, their insidiousness," he said.


He suggested that Lebed was collaborating on the talks with the Chechen separatists. "It seems in the last meeting the delegation was chosen by the secretary of the Security Council himself, who chose to include Ingush President Ruslan Aushev. The latter, as many people in the Caucasus know, is a relative of [the late Chechen separatist leader] Dzhokhar Dudayev."


Kulikov said that he had privately voiced objections to giving Lebed "unlimited authority" in handling the Chechen crisis.


On Thursday prior to his return to Moscow from Chechnya, Lebed said he would name those guilty of allowing the Aug. 6 rebel attack to take place. He charged that "as many as four parties" were participating in the Chechen conflict, which he called "a contract and commercial war."


Asked Friday about whom he had in mind, Lebed answered, "My plan is to give you doses of information as soon as I am ready. At this point, there will be no more names, although I know them. But not now."


Andrei Piontkowsky of the Moscow-based Center for Strategic Studies said Lebed's move against Kulikov and the interior ministry was in part an attempt to limit the damage the Chechen war has done to the Russian army's reputation.


"In terms of national pride, the army is much more important an institution than the police," he said. "So he is trying save the army's reputation and accuse the police of everything."


In addition, said Piontkowsky, Lebed, who already managed to get his ally General Igor Rodionov appointed defense minister, may have something similar in mind for the interior ministry.


"Now Lebed wants to put his nominee in the interior ministry, for two reasons: one, to ensure his success in Chechnya, and secondly, given Yeltsin's state of health, to have a loyal person there, with an eye to the next presidential campaign."