Lebed's man named as defence minister

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The Independent Online
President Boris Yeltsin appointed a new defence minister yesterday in a move that appeared to strengthen the influence of Alexander Lebed, his national security chief. The President's office named the new minister as General Igor Rodionov, 59, who has career ties with Mr Lebed dating back to the Soviet era.

Mr Lebed, a retired general, mounted a vigorous public campaign for his friend's promotion after being appointed last month to the twin posts of secretary of the Security Council and Mr Yeltsin's national security adviser. He described the white-haired General Rodionov as "a brilliant general, a worthy and valiant man".

However, Russian military specialists said it would be wrong to conclude that Mr Lebed had forced General Rodionov's appointment on Mr Yeltsin, who has been in poor health for the past three weeks. One general and pro-government member of parliament, Lev Rokhlin, said Mr Yeltsin had been considering General Rodionov for the defence minister's job several months ago.

The job became vacant after Mr Yeltsin, seeking votes in the second round of Russia's presidential election, sacked the unpopular Pavel Grachev, a loyal ally during the attempted coups of 1991 and 1993. Mr Lebed had made no secret of his intense dislike of Mr Grachev and almost certainly made the minister's dismissal a condition of his acceptance of the national security jobs.

General Rodionov served with Mr Lebed in the Soviet armed forces in Georgia in the 1980s, when pressure for independence was growing in the small southern republic. He was commander of the Transcaucasus military district in April 1989 when his forces killed 19 Georgian nationalist demonstrators in Tbilisi.

A Soviet parliamentary commission later blamed General Rodionov for "violations" in Georgia. But in his memoirs published earlier this year, Mr Lebed said his friend ought not to have been made a scapegoat for politicians' mistakes.

He was later appointed to run the General Staff Academy, which he now leaves for the defence ministry. The general is expected to work closely with Mr Lebed on a programme of far-reaching reforms intended to modernise the army.