Lebed sees off another 7 generals

Fresh from flushing out a cluster of hardliners from his innermost circle, Boris Yeltsin yesterday pressed on with his campaign to win last-minute votes in next week's presidnential election run-off by firing seven army generals.

Among those to get their marching orders in what has become one of Russia's biggest recent shake-ups in national security were four officers accused by Mr Yeltsin's new right-hand man, Alexander Lebed, of trying to organise resistance to last week's dismissal of the Defence Minister, General Pavel Grachev.

The move is another example of General Lebed's sweeping powers in his new job as secretary of the policy-making Security Council and national security adviser - posts which Mr Yeltsin handed him in the hope of winning over a large slice of his nearly 11 million voters in the election's first round. Although Mr Yeltsin did the firing, there is little doubt that it was at the burly former paratrooper's behest.

Yesterday, Mr Yeltsin underscored his protege's new powers in his annual address to the Federal Assembly in which he emphasised that he had conferred all responsibility for national security policy on the Security Council and had instructed General Lebed "to co-ordinate, prepare, pass and implement day-to-day decisions concerning national security".

Although the council held these powers before, the President appears anxious to spell out General Lebed's sweeping authority - a move which will alarm those critics of the Kremlin who fear that its newest arrival is being given far too much power.

Mr Yeltsin's strategy is mostly about winning votes for next Wednesday's run-off in the presidential race against the Communist leader, Gennady Zyuganov. But it may also be an attempt to show he is moving to bring the 4-million-strong military and security services under one overall control, a policy that parts of the military have long called for. A notable advocate of this view is General Igor Rodionov, General Lebed's preferred candidate as the next Minister of Defence.

At the moment, General Lebed seems to be riding high, getting what he asks for. Mr Yeltsin even obliged him yesterday by booting out two officials from the Security Council. His list of scalps - and, now, powerful enemies - already includes four top Kremlin hawks: General Grachev; General Alexander Korzhakov, the head of the presidential guard, ; the chief of the Federal Security Service, General Mikhail Barsukov and Oleg Soskovets, a First Deputy Prime Minister.

Now the general can claim that he has almost fulfilled his goal of getting rid of the officers whom he accused of trying to resist the firing of General Grachev, his arch-enemy.

Although General Lebed has watered down his claim that they were trying to cook up a coup d'etat by trying to persuade General Grachev to place the army on red alert, he was clearly determined to see them go. Their departure marks a clear-out of Grachev loyalists.All eyes are now on the next defence minister.

Among those tipped are General Rodionov, head of the General Staff Academy; General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, commander of Russian forces in Chechnya and the armed forces chief military expert, General Konstantin Kobets.

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