Power-hungry Lebed spreads his tentacles

He would like to control the security agencies. He wants to tackle both the ruthless Russian mafia, with all its wealth and weapons, and an army of corrupt civil servants. He even intends to protect Russians from trashy Western soap operas. The ambitions of Alexander Lebed, Boris Yeltsin's latest recruit to the highest echelons of the Kremlin, seem to know few bounds.

In the 12 days since he arrived in the Kremlin, the retired general has already played a leading part in a sweeping shake-up in the government, with the firing of the head of the Federal Security Service, the defence minister, the head of the presidential guard, a top aide and seven army generals. Should he get his way, this will only be for openers.

If Mr Yeltsin - said to be resting yesterday after weeks of heavy campaigning - is re-elected in Wednesday's run-off, his protege will seek a tranche of new powers, altering the relationship between different organs of government. Were Mr Lebed's dreams to be realised, there is every reason to believe that Russia, with its weak parliament, will be even less democratic than it is now. The former paratrooper general would also find himself in fierce conflict with the generals, security chiefs and the array of corrupt government officials whom he plans to challenge.

When Mr Lebed won nearly 11m votes in the election's first round a fortnight ago (with the Kremlin's help), Mr Yeltsin appointed him as the secretary of his Security Council and national security adviser in a pre-planned manoeuvre aimed at winning over his supporters in the run-off. Overnight the general became one of the most powerful men in the country - although more because of his proximity to the president than through the powers inherent in his new posts.

The council, set up in 1992, is an influential advisory body to the president. Like the old Communist Politburo, its members comprise the government's heavyweights - notably, the top brass in defence and security, but also from the other ministries. However, it has no law-making powers; the constitution places most of the power in the hands of the president.

But Mr Lebed has big changes in mind for the future. He has made clear that he intends to ask Mr Yeltsin to boost the power of the council, as part of a drive to "radically increase the efficiency of law and order bodies". This is the only way to prevent Russia from being engulfed by crime, and to guarantee stability and progress, he argues.Last week, he submitted a plan to Mr Yeltsin to create a system to "co-ordinate all the power ministries" - apparently intended to give the council a supervisory role over the formidable Federal Security Service, the military and other security organisations. Although he did not publicly spell out his demands in detail, suspicions abound that he envisages the council as a near-authoritarian body, answerable only to the president.

A clue to his strategy camefrom the Russian news agency Interfax, which published details of a plan, allegedly endorsed by Mr Lebed, called "A New Approach to Problems of National Security". It talked of the state playing a larger role in the economy, of modifying Russia's "unjustifiably accelerated privatisation progress", and of taking strict control over the export of raw materials. The general also wanted tighter passport and visa regulations, and to reorientate spying activities toward Russia's economic interests. At first, Mr Lebed - who is usually more moderate - sought to distance himself from it, saying that work on it began before his appointment, and that it was incomplete. But, according to Interfax, he later confirmed that the document reflected his views.

Quite apart from its anti-Western and interventionist undertones, the document is a revealing indication of the powers which Mr Lebed appears to be hoping he, and the Security Council, will wield: his definition of national security clearly includes economic strategy and some aspects of foreign policy.

Later the general widened his brief still further at a meeting in Moscow of nationalist groups, dominated by Cossacks. Russian culture was "one of the cornerstones of our national security", he said, during a wild diatribe about the Western "sexual trash or violence or soap operas" that had flooded the country. Will his bulging portfolio also include protecting the airwaves from the highly popular Santa Barbara series and cleansing the news stands of pornography?

Or defending the faith? In the same speech, Mr Lebed revealed that he regarded Western religious sects, including the Mormons, as "mould and filth" which had been "artificially brought into our country with the purpose of perverting, corrupting, and ultimately breaking up our state". His remarks prompted a flurry of outrage, both among Russian liberals and abroad. Such was the frisson of alarm that the White House - staunch defenders of Mr Yeltsin - admitted that its officials were concerned.

Much of Mr Lebed's remarks can be probably be put down to election rhetoric. But he appears to be serious about his grandiose plans for the Security Council, and his credibility would suffer heavily if he failed to try to implement them. Whether he ever realises them is a different matter, however. Until Wednesday's election is over, the gruff general will remain the favoured son of Mr Yeltsin, who badly needs his votes. Afterwards, the president could choose to dump him. In the meantime, Western diplomats and Russian democrats are eying Mr Lebed warily, wondering how much power he plans to steal from his aging mentor, and what impact he will have on Russia's young democracy.

"Like a former Roman centurion, whom fortune and political upheaval had suddenly turned into the junior co-ruler of an aging emperor, Lebed is apparently hoping to pull the real strings of power in Russia, while Yeltsin officially occupies the throne, mostly indulging in tennis and vodka," Pavel Felgenhauer, a commentator on defence, wrote in the Moscow Times recently. A foreign diplomat put it more bluntly: "General Lebed is out of control."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
Life and Style
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own