Yeltsin Fires Lebed

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MOSCOW: Russian President Boris Yeltsin fired his security adviser Alexander Lebed today, telling the nation in a TV address that he could no longer tolerate Lebed's apparent maneuverings to lay the groundwork for his own presidential bid. Although Yeltsin did not accuse his former ally of plotting a coup, he said the man "made several mistakes" he could not ignore. After Yeltsin's speech, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin called security forces to alert and made his own TV speech to calm the situation, mentioning Lebed's "irresponsibility, incompetence, and home-grown Napoleon complex." Lebed's dismissal follows an emergency government meeting brought on by weeks of intrigue among Lebed, Chernomyrdin and Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov. Wednesday, Kulikov accused Lebed of plotting a coup and trying to creating his own military force called the Russian Legion; Lebed has denied the charge, but Chernomyrdin partially confirmed it. The growing conflict between Kulikov and Lebed began weeks ago, when Lebed, trying to organize a cease-fire in the rebellious Caucasian region Chechnya, called Kulikov "incompetent." For his part, Kulikov said Lebed harbored a "maniacal striving for power" and had committed "high treason" by making peace in Chechnya. Behind public accusations lie a power struggle that has possessed the Kremlin for months. Anatoly Chubais, Chernomyrdin and Yeltsin's powerful chief of staff, long resented Lebed as an ambitious newcomer. Lebed, short on subtlety but long on ambition, made no secret of his desire to be president, but she eems to have alienated everyone in Yeltsin's administration while becoming, recent polls say, the most popular politician in Russia. "There is no question that Yeltsin had every right to dump Lebed," says TIME's Bruce Nelan. "He was appointed adviser to the president in an electoral move. It is only surprising that it didn't happen earlier, since Lebed was so insulting and challenging to the entire leadership." During his stint as security adviser, Nelan adds, Lebed has become formidable political figure with a potential peace-making success in Chechnya to enhance his prestige. "Lebed's dismissal clears the way for him to run in the next presidential election, where he will also be able to play for sympathy and claim he was fired when trying to do his best for the nation." Accusations of coup plots aside, Nelan adds, Lebed's ouster may cause ripples, but signals that Russian democracy is now strong enough to withstand such major shake-ups. -->