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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

PARTY LINES: Does Kremlin Have Sights on Lebed Again?




Suddenly, the name of Krasnoyarsk Governor Alexander Lebed is on everyone's lips.


On Wednesday, the newspaper Izvestia reported that Lebed may soon be named Russia's prime minister, marking a return to the government from which he was booted under a cloud of controversy in 1996.


"The period in which Lebed is deprived of wide ranging power is over," the daily wrote. The paper speculated that in the event of President Boris Yeltsin's early resignation - a scenario that has been floating around for weeks now - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin would become acting president and Lebed acting prime minister.


Putin's KGB record and the popularity of ex-paratrooper General Lebed are a winning combination if Kremlin insiders have in mind to declare a state of emergency, thus circumventing those pesky elections that are getting so much harder to fix. It would also shake the dominance of Kremlin archenemies Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who stand to lead the presidential race.


In an unusually quick response, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Yakushkin called the report of Lebed's imminent return "absolute rubbish."


But why is the Kremlin even responding?


Last week, Lebed himself predicted that his services would be required to set things straight in war-torn Dagestan and the rest of the country.


"What is going on in my native country suggests that my skills will be demanded soon," Lebed was quoted by the press as saying. "I have the feeling that I will have to deal with the mess made by foolish people. No one else can do this job."


Even State Duma Deputy Vladimir Zhirinovsky is getting into the "let's talk about Lebed" act.


In remarks to reporters Tuesday, Zhirinovsky blamed Kremlin-connected business tycoon Boris Berezovsky and Lebed - whose election last year as Krasnoyarsk governor was financed by Berezovsky - for Monday's deadly apartment explosion. Zhirinovsky demanded both Berezovsky's and Lebed's arrests, adding that until this happens, "provocations in the country will continue."


The general thrust of all these versii, or versions, is the same. Berezovsky is in cahoots with Lebed. The tycoon is counting on the general to take over when Yeltsin passes from the scene to protect his safety and his business interests.


Another versiya making the rounds via the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper is that "the family" is desperately trying to secure its future with Primakov before Yeltsin supposedly goes in for an operation on Sept. 21.


If Yeltsin dies under the knife, reporter Alexander Khinshtein speculates that his inner circle "may not even make it on board the presidential airplane" to escape the mobs demanding their blood. Khinshtein writes that Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko is currently trying to broker the family's immunity with the presidential front-runner: Primakov gets the Kremlin, "the family" gets off.


So what to make of all this spin? If Yeltsin is indeed on his last legs, then it appears that the president's inner circle is divided about what to do next. Part of "the family" - the part led by Berezovsky - wants to bring in Lebed and crack heads to protect his interests. Another part - led by Dyachenko - wants to cut a deal with Primakov. Either way, "the family" proves once again that its most important agenda is covering its own hide.