General claims he halted coup against Yeltsin

Turmoil in Russia: President's new security head says he thwarted revolt by supporters of sacked former defence minister

Russia's fastest rising politician, Alexander Lebed, yesterday claimed to have snuffed out a plan for a military coup after the sacking of the Russian Defence Minister, Pavel Grachev.

President Boris Yeltsin had moved swiftly to boost his re-election chances yesterday by firing the unpopular Mr Grachev, and handing two top posts - secretary of the policy-making security council and national security adviser - to the man of the moment, General Lebed.

General Lebed said that he intervened after a group of generals gathered outside Mr Grachev's office, and tried to persuade him to put the army on red alert in an effort to persuade Mr Yeltsin to reverse the dismissal decision.

The speed of the President's manoeuvre, only two days after narrowly winning the election's first round, adds to suspicions that the Kremlin covertly supported General Lebed's presidential campaign, in which he came third with a surprisingly high 11 million votes.

It was in the hope of netting those votes in the run-off that Mr Yeltsin yesterday appointed the 46-year-old retired general, a middle-of-the-road nationalist, as secretary of the Security Council and national security adviser. The scalp of the hapless General Grachev is likely to have been one of General Lebed's demands, as the two men hate each other.

Mr Yeltsin was keen to dispel the impression that the appointments were campaign tactics, insisting that General Lebed would have a key role in military reform and fighting crime. "This is not just an appointment, it is a merger of two politicians, two programs," he said, standing next to General Lebed in the Kremlin.

Within hours of taking up the job, General Lebed was claiming credit for the first success in his drive to impose law and order. "People close to the [former] Defence Minister attempted to form GKChP Number three," he said, referring by a Russian acronym to the groups that organised the August 1991 attempted putsch and the conflict between parliament and the Kremlin in 1993.

"Full loyalty was displayed and I know for sure that there will be no disturbances," the general added. Later, he toned down his claims, saying it had merely been an attempt to put pressure on the President. But he repeated allegations of a thwarted coup on television last night.

General Lebed's appointment is a setback for Mr Yeltsin's challenger, the Communist leader, Gennady Zyuganov. He came second with 31.96 per cent to Mr Yeltsin's 35.02, according to preliminary figures.

Although it is unclear what proportion of the Lebed vote will support the President in the second round, his appointment makes it no easier for the Communists to expand their vote of about 24 million.

General Lebed will have no truck with the Communists: "I faced two ideas: an old one which caused much bloodshed and a new one which is being carried out very poorly, but to which the future belongs. I choose the new idea."

Yesterday's events look as if they were cooked up some time ago by Mr Yeltsin's campaign managers, after concluding that a strong performance by the general would damage the ultra-nationalist, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, and the Communists.

In the closing days before Sunday's ballot, glossy pro-Lebed television advertisements, made by specialists with close ties with the Kremlin's campaign, started to appear.

General Lebed has ensured greater powers for his job as secretary of the Security Council, the main-policy making body which overseas the military and the security services. He will be credited for having got rid of the hated General Grachev, who is widely blamed for the debacle of the Chechen war.

He also appears to be playing a leading role in choosing the sacked minister's replacement. Although General Boris Gromov, a strong Yeltsin ally, is tipped for the job, it may remain in the hands of General Mikhail Kolesnikov, 56, chief of the Armed Forces General Staff, who was yesterday named acting Defence Minister.

But his warm relationship with Mr Yeltsin may prove short-lived. He has been given the brief to wipe out corruption. "I don't think he will follow the law," said Mr Markov. "He regards this as a real war against crime. I know there is a big panic right now among the mafia, because they know he wants to use troops against them."

This could lead to a conflict between the general and the shadier characters who surround the President.

Leading article, page 11

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Electrical Engineer

£26500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is going through a period o...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Optimisation Executive - Marketing

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's fastest growing, multi...

Recruitment Genius: Professional Sales Trainee - B2B

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: First things first - for the av...

Recruitment Genius: Creative Web and UI Designer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An experienced creative web and...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral