Lebed threatens West with rusty missiles

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The Independent Online
Alexander Lebed, Boris Yeltsin's outspoken security chief, yesterday launched another volley of extraordinary threats aimed at Nato, citing Russia's arsenal of missiles as a deterrent against the alliance's expansion plans.

In an outburst certain to cause consternation among Western powers, the Russian news agency, Interfax, said Mr Lebed told Russian journalists: "Russia has something with which to oppose Nato's enlargement. They are rusty, but they're missiles all the same."

The agency said Mr Lebed, a highly popular former general whom many tip to succeed Mr Yeltsin, plans to deliver a blunt message to Nato leaders when he visits the alliance's headquarters in Brussels this month: "We either pursue a civilized path or we move towards confrontation."

Mr Lebed's utterances follow a dispute with the Daily Telegraph, which published an interview in which he reportedly advocated imposing economic sanctions against the United States and Germany if Nato pressed ahead with its expansionist policies. The interview was denounced by his press office as a "falsification". The paper has stood by the story.

In the three months in which the former general has been in office, he has established a reputation both for publicity-seeking and for wild remarks. In particular, his views on Nato appear to have hardened from his previous stance. Not long ago, he argued that that the alliance was free to waste money on expansion - as Russia had no intention of threatening any country outside its borders.

His outbursts may be connected with his increasingly overt campaign for the Russian presidency. Last week, he marked his first 100 days in office by holding a press conference, upbraiding the govern- ment's performance.