Lebed 'plans Legion to smash foes'

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The struggle for supremacy within the Kremlin reached a new ferocity last night when Russia's Interior Minister, Anatoly Kulikov, launched a blistering attack on Alexander Lebed, accusing the security chief of plotting a coup, and of trying to establish a Russian version of the French Foreign Legion, whose duties would include political assassinations.

In a bizarre side drama, the minister also said security forces in cities across Russia had been placed on heightened alert because of the risk of an attack by Chechen fighters, after earlier hinting that Mr Lebed was planning to use separatist support in his quest for power. It was unclear if the two developments were connected.

The two men have been at each other's throats since shortly after Mr Yeltsin appointed Mr Lebed as the secretary of Russia's Security Council, national security adviser, and special envoy to Chechnya. Their rivalry erupted in public when the ex-paratrooper general demanded General Kulikov's dismissal for mishandling the Chechen war. The Interior Minister counter- attacked by repeatedly lambasting Mr Lebed for striking a deal with the Chechens that he considers a sell-out.

But yesterday's episode was extraordinary, coming only a day after Boris Yeltsin called on his entourage to stop bickering. A spokesman for the President, who is preparing for a heart operation in mid-November, said he was "extremely worried" by General Kulikov's claims, and had demanded to see details. Mr Lebed denied the claims, saying that he intends to sue the minister for one rouble, adding that "the poor thing has got everything wrong".

General Kulikov accused Mr Lebed of planning to establish a 50,000-strong "Russian Legion", modelled on the French Foreign Legion, which would be under his operational control as the head of the Security Council. Quoting documents which he claimed came from Mr Lebed's entourage, General Kulikov said the legion's goal included "neutralising political and armed conflicts".

The general said this included the "liquidation of political and military leaders and the leaders of extremist, terrorist, and separatist movements as well as other organisations whose activities threaten national security".

He also accused Mr Lebed of plotting a "creeping coup", saying that he "had made the final decision to proceed in the near future with the use of force, without waiting for the [next] presidential election".

Mr Lebed said it was no secret that he had asked the Interior and Defence Ministries to set up a single brigade of up to 3,500 people in each region so that "there would be some kind of power in the state".

General Kulikov's allegations will be seen as the result of a struggle for control between the head of one of Russia's "power" ministries - the general has 230,000 forces at his disposal - and the head of a revamped Security Council. But they will strike a nerve among liberals who believe that Mr Lebed has despotic tendencies.

It now seems inevitable that one of the two men will have to leave office.