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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lebed Rebuked, Kulikov Stays On

National security tsar Alexander Lebed on Monday reluctantly agreed to work side-by-side with Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov, after President Boris Yeltsin ignored a public ultimatum from Lebed to sack him.


Lebed told Interfax he was prepared to meet with Kulikov to decide how to "continue to work together." This marked a dramatic back-down for the tough-talking retired general who only last Friday blamed Kulikov for Russia's humiliating failure in the battle for Grozny over the past three weeks.


Lebed had told reporters that Yeltsin faced a tough choice between him and Kulikov, although he later backed away from the ultimatum, saying there would be no "resignations."


According to Russian press reports over the weekend, Yeltsin refused to accept Kulikov's resignation, which was submitted late Friday soon after Lebed made his allegations.


Yeltsin asked Kulikov to continue on as head of the Interior Ministry during a telephone conversation Friday evening, Interfax reported, citing a well-informed source in the Kremlin.


Presidential press secretary Sergei Yastrzhembsky said Monday that both Kulikov and Lebed, who has been charged with finding a solution to the Chechen war, will stay on in their posts, the news agency reported.


According to the presidential spokesman, Yeltsin instructed Lebed, who is secretary of the Security Council and the president's envoy to Chechnya, to submit "reasoned proposals" concerning the responsibility of officials for the Aug. 6 rebel attack.


Yeltsin also gave Lebed an indirect rebuke, saying that the hostilities in Grozny should not be "widely discussed," as during Lebed's Friday press conference.


The latest reverberations from the Kulikov-Lebed imbroglio coincided with continuing warfare in the Chechen capital. Heavy fighting was reported in Grozny on Monday, despite a cease-fire agreement the interior minister who said Friday that Lebed's accusations reflected the ex-general's "manaical" quest for power, appeared to have won this struggle.


Lebed seemed to back off from the confrontation Monday. In a statement to Interfax, he denied he had presented Yeltsin with an ultimatum, saying a settlement to the Chechen crisis was more important than personal ambitions.


"Some of the media have speculated that I provoked a scandal, because, in their opinion, I have realized that I will not manage to settle the Chechen conflict and have decided to resign while slamming the door, the presidential one," Lebed said. "I have accumulated good experience in the army and remember who is the country's commander in chief."


Lebed continued to blame Kulikov for the capture of Grozny by rebels. "It is nonetheless necessary to understand who is specifically responsible for the penetration of separatist militants into Grozny and their unleashing active combat actions which killed 265 Russian federal troops and wounded over 1,000 Russian troops," the statement read.


"I believe that Kulikov is responsible for this," he said, adding that he believed the interior minister had failed to implement presidential decisions regarding a settlement to the crisis.


Lev Rokhlin, a reserve general who is one of Lebed's allies in the State Duma, said Monday that the inter-governmental battle was a result of continued confusion over who will be tasked with cutting the Chechen knot.


"There are two exits from the current situation," Tuesday's Izvestia quotes him as saying. "Either, by presidential decree, to really transfer all power to solve the problem to Lebed, so that his subordinates wouldn't discuss the problems of the interior minister, or to withdraw the armed forces from Chechnya, leaving only Interior Ministry structures and turning over all responsibility to minister Kulikov."


"It is a kind of public humiliation, because he [Lebed] made a certain commitment when he said that if Kulikov stays, he'll have to go," said Andrei Kortunov of the Russian Science Foundation.


"Now he's in a very difficult position, because he should either go or recognize that his statement was simply a bluff. Besides, I can imagine that if two people so hostile to each other deal with the same problem, it will not help to resolve the problem."


Others said that by branding Kulikov as an obstacle to a settlement in Chechnya, Lebed was trying to create an excuse for the inevitable failure of a mission impossible.


"Maybe he's trying to find some sort of an excuse: if something goes wrong now, he can say, 'I tried, but I was prevented from doing what I planned to do.' But at the same time, he put himself in a very difficult position when he said, 'either me or Kulikov,'" said Andrei Konovalov of the USA/Canada Institute.


The renewed hostilities in Grozny will make Lebed's job even more difficult. Yastrzhembsky, Yeltsin's press secretary, said Monday that the president had ordered Lebed to "restore the system of law and order in Grozny" which existed prior to the latest rebel offensive by removing the rebels' encirclement of army units and government installations. Yeltsin said the Security Council should concentrate on effecting the gradual withdrawal of federal troops from Chechnya by Sept. 1.


Lev Rokhlin, meanwhile, told reporters Monday that the lack of funds for the Russian armed forces had created an "explosive" situation.


"The government and the president are aware of this problem, but the army is collapsing," he said. "People are committing suicide."