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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Governor Warns of War if Lebed Wins

Sensing imminent defeat at the hands of Alexander Lebed, the governor of the Krasnoyarsk region sent President Boris Yeltsin an urgent letter warning of civil war if the paratrooper general wins the gubernatorial election.

Governor Valery Zubov, the pro-Kremlin candidate, lost to Lebed by 10 percentage points in the first-round vote last month. The runoff on May 17 should determine whether Lebed, one of the fiercest critics of the Kremlin, will get a launching pad for the presidency.

Zubov's letter, which he read on local television Sunday, accused the Kremlin of undermining his position by failing to deliver sufficient funds to pay workers and pensioners in the immense Siberian region.

If the situation is not remedied quickly, Zubov wrote, he will stop sending tax revenues to Moscow and will call for a referendum on whether to declare Krasnoyarsk a semi-autonomous republic.

He said that should Lebed take power, the region would see a redistribution of property and shady Moscow bankers who backed Lebed would come to govern some of the richest mineral resources in Russia.

"I believe that you, the president of Russia, understand what this would mean -- the path to civil war on a huge territory of a great nation," Zubov wrote.

The Kremlin issued no immediate response.

Zubov, 44, is usually a soft-spoken man, and the impassioned tone of his appeal suggests that he is making a desperate last-ditch attempt to save his job.

"I demand from you any measure that would end this sabotage by Moscow bankers," Zubov wrote to Yeltsin.

Lebed's campaign has been linked to Moscow financier Boris Berezovsky, who has acknowledged wanting to see the general elected.

A spokesman for Lebed in Krasnoyarsk called Zubov's plea to the Kremlin "foolishness."

Zubov had been sailing smoothly to re-election in the vast Siberian region until Lebed dropped into Krasnoyarsk in February.

The charismatic retired general sent alarm bells ringing in the Kremlin when he broke most predictions and easily won the first round, getting 45 percent to Zubov's 35 percent. A Communist Party candidate finished third.

Although Zubov called in reserves, such as Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, to bolster his campaign, the region's chronic nonpayment crisis has made the governor an easy target.

Some political observers in Moscow say that only a personal visit by Yeltsin to Krasnoyarsk may help Zubov now.

Zubov's press secretary, Yury Vasiliyev, said the governor was not asking Yeltsin to stump for him, but rather issuing the president with an ultimatum to send cash. "He is not asking for Yeltsin to come," Vasiliyev said. "This is more serious."

Lebed finished third in the 1996 presidential vote. He briefly joined the Kremlin that summer, receiving a senior security post in exchange for his backing of Yeltsin's candidacy in his runoff against Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov.

After getting fired, Lebed became an outspoken opponent of the Yeltsin regime.

Some observers say Yeltsin is not doing enough to help stave off Lebed's political comeback.

The speaker of the State Duma, parliament's lower house, told NTV television Friday that Yeltsin may have actually decided to support Lebed. "Yeltsin has already made his choice," Gennady Seleznyov, a Communist, said. "If not him, then Lebed. And if Lebed, then a state of emergency in Russia."