Kremlin takes fright as Lebed bids for power - News - The Independent

Kremlin takes fright as Lebed bids for power

ALEXANDER LEBED, the former paratrooper general once rated as Russia's most trusted politician, is about to face the most important battle to date in his campaign to take over the Kremlin.

This weekend he hopes to burst out of the wings on to the centre stage of Russian politics by winning the governorship of Krasnoyarsk, a mineral- rich region in western Siberia four times the size of Texas.

Voters will go to the polls on Sunday for the final round of the election, which, if Mr Lebed triumphs, will make him a front-runner in the race to replace Boris Yeltsin. The contest, which pitches him against the incumbent governor, Valery Zubov, a moderate pro-marketeer, is seen as a test-bed for the presidential election in 2000, and has drawn in worried rivals, power-hungry oligarchs and the Kremlin.

Victory for Mr Lebed, a nationalist, would restore much of the clout he lost when an ungrateful Mr Yeltsin signed a decree, live on national television, firing him as head of the Security Council. His dismissal came only four months after Mr Yeltsin gave him the job in a brazen attempt to win over his 10.7 million share of the vote between the two rounds of the 1996 presidential elections. His sacking - the product of infighting amid the President's aides - came despite his success in brokering an end to the Chechen war; it set a vengeful Mr Lebed on Mr Yeltsin's heels.

The fact that Mr Lebed, 48, who last month won the first round of the Krasnoyarsk election with 45 per cent, seems likely to win has raised alarm throughout Russia's political establishment. He has made no secret of his plan to use the job, which gives him a helpful seat in the Federation Council, as a launching pad for a bid for the highest office.

The Communists fear he will take a large bite out of their stagnant electorate, burying their slender hopes of succeeding Mr Yeltsin. His rivals know one of his weaknesses, the lack of big-time money, could be solved. To the alarm of the Kremlin, and of much of the Moscow financial and social elite ranged behind it, he would be well-placed to recruit Siberia's raw-material barons to bankroll his presidential bid.

That anxiety was reflected by Moscow's mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, a frontrunner for the presidency, who has pitched in to help Mr Lebed's opponent; the mayor is well aware that Mr Lebed is a fellow nationalist and a genuine rival for his turf, who shares his flare for publicity.

Mr Lebed's brother, Alexei, another trombone-voiced ex-para, is governor of the neighbouring Khakassia region. As the central government tries to assert its control over 11 time zones, it faces the spectre of two brothers in alliance; brothers who control the vast sweep of land which links European and Asian Russia, a prize fiefdom with its rich legacy of nickel, oil and bauxite.

As the poll approaches, nightly news bulletins regularly lead with accounts of the daily duel for Siberia's hearts and minds. Pressing regional issues - unpaid wages, a crumbling infrastructure - have been largely overshadowed by the gladiatorial struggle.

The tactics of the American campaign trail abound. Mr Lebed, who long ago swapped khaki for cashmere and silk, is supported by spin doctors overseeing a super-slick PR operation. Their coups include a visit from the French film star Alain Delon, a big star in Russia.

Yesterday Mr Zubov, a former economics professor and Yeltsin loyalist who was a shoo-in until Mr Lebed entered the fray, counterattacked by wheeling in Russia's female pop diva, Alla Pugachyova. The governor, supported by the Kremlin, is putting up a spirited fight. "Fascists hide behind your back," snapped Mr Zubov in a television debate this week. "I have not used my fists in a long time," retorted Mr Lebed, an ex-boxer who has boasted of breaking the jaws of soldiers who brutalised their juniors.

And that last detail is the principal problem with Mr Lebed. A hero of the Afghan war and broker of a lasting cease-fire in Moldova, he styles himself as a democrat, albeit it one who places a sharp accent on law and order. He talks of encouraging private investment, fighting corruption, and stimulating the market economy.

But his critics, especially in the West, where he is viewed with concern, have not forgotten a tirade in which he called Mormons "mould and scum", and cited Russia's "rusty missiles" as a response to Nato expansion. Such remarks can be put down to stump rhetoric. His record, particularly, his performance in Chechnya, outshines his sillier outbursts. Yet it is impossible to be absolutely sure that a despot's heart does not beat beneath the soft folds of his charcoal suit.

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week