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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lebed Still Green in Art Of Politics

General Alexander Lebed undoubtedly deserves praise for his bold initiative in Chechnya. By meeting with rebel leaders and treating them as honorable fighting men rather than as armed bandits, he managed to break the deadlock, bring the warring sides to the bargaining table and secure an informal cease-fire that has saved many lives in the battle-scarred republic.


But Lebed is less successful when it comes to playing Kremlin games. In the past few days he has sacrificed much of his cachet as a straight-talking player and has joined the ranks of those for whom the political capital to be gained is the driving factor in decision-making.


The gruff ex-general began his latest power play Thursday, with his sensational statements to reporters that he would soon reveal the names of those responsible for the Chechen tragedy.


Few doubt that the war is a dirty one, in which high-level officials are benefitting, and are, therefore, reluctant to see the conflict end. If Lebed can expose these people, and cleanse the government of them, Russia will be much better off. But instead of the promised "name-by-name" expos? of corruption within the government, Lebed delivered an unfocused, perfunctory attack against Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov.


It is not out of the question that Kulikov bears some of the responsibility for the Chechen disaster, but he should not become a scapegoat for the sins of others. Surely Lebed did not mean to suggest that the rest of the government was blameless?


Lebed called the war a "commercial" one, and hinted there were at least four sides involved. But he scrupulously avoided charging the army with any wrongdoing, perhaps to keep from spattering dirt on the Defense Ministry, which is now run by Igor Rodionov, hand-picked for the job by Lebed himself.


Lebed also did not mention any other figures in the government, perhaps fearing for his own position if he were to aim too high in his fight against corruption.


Some analysts have suggested Lebed's attack on Kulikov was never meant to oust the interior minister. Rather, it was an attempt to apportion blame in advance, so that if Lebed's Chechen initiative fails, he will have already set up someone to take the blame.


Lebed is a good military man, who can gain the confidence and loyalty of his troops. But so far in his political career he has not had the wisdom to pick the battles that he can win. He has forced the president to choose publicly against him by refusing to accept Kulikov's resignation, and Lebed's spokesman says that the ex-general has no intention of resigning himself.


One can only hope Lebed will soon acquire the political savvy to match his hubris.