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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Krasnoyarsk Gets Ready for Life With Lebed




KRASNOYARSK, Western Siberia -- The anxiety was almost tangible in executive suites and government offices across Krasnoyarsk on Friday as people pondered just what might happen if -- as now appears likely -- General Alexander Lebed is elected governor Sunday.


Business leaders wondered aloud whether the money they poured into Governor Valery Zubov's re-election campaign would turn out to be enough to get the job done. Bureaucrats in the Krasnoyarsk region administration building whispered about job security. And the regional legislature plotted ways to water down the governor's powers in case Lebed takes office.


Lebed, who is counting on victory here to boost his chances of winning the presidency in 2000, came from nowhere to beat Zubov by 10 percentage points in last month's first-round vote.


Now, few except for the incumbent governor himself think that Zubov can claw back the lead ahead of Sunday's second-round runoff and keep Lebed from marching into the regional administration building next week.


"I will win. I will win," Zubov said at a news conference Thursday. "The situation since the last vote has changed drastically."


But Krasnoyarsk's businesspeople -- the ones with the most to lose -- did not sound too convinced that the pro-market governor was right. Instead, they voiced serious concerns that their companies might soon be ruined because Lebed, whose economic policies have never been clearly defined, is about to take power.


"What he says about economics scares me," said Yevgenia Kuznetsova, the president of Pikra, the region's largest brewery.


"I don't want a new person to come here and learn everything by his own mistakes," said Kuznetsova, an executive education diploma from Duke University in the United States hanging prominently on the wall behind her. A photograph of her showing off a bottle of Pikra beer to a grinning President Boris Yeltsin hangs just next to it.


"Lebed would make the perfect defense minister," she said. "But it would take him at least five years to learn about the economy. Meanwhile, I have a business to take care of."


So fearing that Lebed just might accidentally run her profitable beer and soft-drink factory into the ground, Kuznetsova said she has spent "as much money as the law allows" to fund Zubov's re-election campaign.


Kuznetsova conceded that she is not too happy with Zubov either. "We have had our arguments," she said. Nevertheless, she, like most other business leaders in this region, has arrived at a working relationship with the governor.


People who work in the Krasnoyarsk region administration building voiced similar concern.


Zina Borisova, who deals with social issues like schools and medicine, said employees in her office are wondering if they will still have their jobs a few days after Sunday's election.


"Lebed is financed by his own people, but all debts have to be repaid with jobs," Borisova said. "Of course, all of us are voting for Zubov. It has been nice working with him. I don't know if I have a legal right to keep my job. But even if I can, I would hate to work with Lebed."


Perhaps sensing that the old guard is turning against him, Lebed made a point Friday to say that he will work with everyone, including the local legislature.


"I am a well-trained military man. At a certain point, I learned that using reason brings much better results than using aggression," Lebed said.


But Lebed got a taste of what might be in store for him should he become governor of this mineral-rich but economically troubled region when he visited the local parliament building Friday.


In an apparent attempt to insure themselves against a Lebed victory, deputies are now circulating a bill that would let them, and not the governor, appoint people to the highest local ministerial posts.


Members of Lebed's Law and Order party, who hold about one-fifth of the house seats, invited their leader to speak before the session. Lebed showed up. But after an angry hour-long debate, deputies voted down a motion let the general have his say.


"There are no hurt feelings," Lebed said cordially as he walked out of the chamber. "Let's move on."


Besides antagonism from local politicians, Lebed has a recurring problem with voters -- something he also tried to address Friday. Many people who say they will vote against Lebed explain their choice by saying that he will simply forget their region once he wins the election and launches his presidential campaign.


So Lebed said in an interview with a radio station on Friday that he would not run for president should it take him longer than two years to revive the region's floundering economy. He said Krasnoyarsk was his main concern.


"Lebed meant what he said," said Lebed's press secretary, Vladimir Yakushenko. "We cannot speak now about what might happen two years down the road."


Maybe the only people who did not sound too concerned about what might happen after election day were the ones promenading down the streets of central Krasnoyarsk on Friday's sunny afternoon.


"I plan to vote for the lesser of two evils," giggled Nastya, 19, who supplements her college tuition bill by dancing in a local bar. "I am not sure which one that is though."