Alexander I. Lebed, the darling of the disaffected and political nemesis of Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, resurfaced Friday after a mysterious two-month absence to stake a claim on the role of this nation’s leader-in-waiting.
Lebed announced he is forming a new political party to present an opposition force to Yeltsin and the president’s unpopular entourage.
“This will be a party for all of us who reject the extreme right and the extreme left,” Lebed declared at a founding conference for his new Russian Peoples Republican Party.
Describing the new alliance as centrist and a “third force” between the Communists and the current politicians in power, he said he expected to draw support from service personnel, miners, small businessmen, disillusioned Communists, the working poor and those unhappy with the consequences of the past five years of rule by “so-called democratic forces.”
That list of Yeltsin detractors grows ever longer as a budget crisis has forced the government to delay payment of wages and pensions to millions of Russians whose livelihoods depend on the state.
Lebed remains the country’s most popular politician, despite his long absence from the public eye. The 46-year-old retired general brokered a peace settlement in the bitter Chechen war in late August; it has stopped the fighting that took tens of thousands of lives over its 20-month duration.
Moscow’s Center for International Sociological Research reported Friday that 65 percent of more than 5,000 respondents polled named Lebed their choice as Man of the Year in Russia.