Lebed Works for the Top Job

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MOSCOW: Fired Russian Security Adviser Alexander Lebed wasted no time Friday telling the world he wants Boris Yeltsin's job, a development which may bring the ailing President a sort of grim satisfaction. Its an indication of just how far Russian democracy has progressed that Russian politicos are playing conventional, albeit spirited, electoral politics instead of plotting a takeover. Instead of facing a right-wing takeover attempt like the one that briefly imprisoned Mikhail Gorbachev five years ago, Yeltsin must fend off verbal gibes from Lebed. "Its not a country, its a circus," Lebed said Thursday in leaving the government. Lebed's split with Yeltsin has been some time coming; their 11th hour alliance clearly more of an inspired election gambit than a reasoned partnership. Even when the two were allegedly on the same team, the feisty former general called Russia's president a "minus," and managed to alienate nearly every member of Yeltsin's adminstration. Even the communist-dominated Duma, usually no friend to Yeltsin, cheered Lebed's dismissal. "It should have happened a month ago," said Communist leader Gennadi Zyuganov. But now that it has, Zyuganov and Yeltsin are equally threatened politically by Lebed. The former paratrooper's pragmatic platform of crime fighting, plain speaking and his undiluted conviction that Russia has a place as a great power make him popular with the electorate. Now that Lebed is out, he can portray himself as the last honest man in the Yeltsin administration, a result which is probably a calculated risk on the Kremlin's part. After a series of confrontations with former ally Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, and Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov which sent charges of contract murder, treason, corruption spying and coup plotting (which no one seems to believe) flying through the press, Yeltsin seems to have decided that Lebed was better off out of his government. He may come to regret it. If Yeltsin's worsening health brings about new presidential elections before the government can cope with massive public resentment over months of unpaid salaries, Lebed could parlay his high profile and solid popularity into a potent bid for the presidency. -->