Russian Crisis: The main players: Alexander Rutskoi

'THE great mistake people make about Rutskoi,' said a Russian diplomat when the parliamentary siege began, 'is to think the Russian army regards him as a war hero. It's the press that have created that illusion. The fact is that the army don't respect Rutskoi, because in Afghanistan he was just a simple colonel.'

It was in fact only after being appointed Vice-President of Russia that Alexander Rutskoi, a pilot in the Afghan war, was promoted to the rank of general. Russians contrast him with Alexander Lebed, who, unlike Mr Rutskoi, was a general already in Afghanistan. General Lebed is now the controversial commander of the Russian forces in Moldova, and has recently taken to expressing the low morale of the army by warning that it is on the brink of catastrophe. It is he, they say, who is the war hero to be reckoned with - but as yet it is unclear where his loyalties lie.

Last year, Mr Rutskoi said in an interview he was in no hurry to replace Mr Yeltsin. 'If I serve two terms with President Yeltsin, I will be 53 years old. What's that for a politician?' Fourteen months later, he had parliament declare him rival president. After spells as a Communist, reformed Communist and democrat, he began opposing Mr Yeltsin and claimed to represent the so-called 'centre' of Russian politics. When Mr Yeltsin announced plans for direct rule in the spring, Mr Rutskoi defected to the enemy camp, declaring: 'This order will lead to a split in state and society.'

Polling evidence has suggested Mr Rutskoi was at the zenith of his popularity when criticising Mr Yeltsin's programme, but fared badly when taking the initiative. He rapidly lost what credibility he had over his amateurish attempt to run a parallel defence ministry on the 13th floor of the White House, just below the windows that spewed smoke after the building was stormed yesterday.

(Photograph omitted)