President Boris Yeltsin named Alexander Lebed head of his powerful Security Council today, stepping up efforts to win support from the former general before the final round of the Russian presidential election, news agencies reported.
Yeltsin also dismissed Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, a longtime rival of Lebed’s who has been repeatedly criticized for his poor handling of Russian military affairs and the war in Chechnya.
Yeltsin signed a decree today announcing that Lebed, who came in third in the first round of the presidential election, would head the Security Council, which oversees the Russian military and police forces.
Yeltsin beat Gennady Zyuganov by 35 percent to 32 percent in a field of 10 candidates, with 99 percent of the vote counted. But it was Lebed, 46, with his growly voice, heroic combat record and law-and-order platform, who stunned everyone and infused the race with a sudden sense of uncertainty by grabbing just under 15 percent of the vote. Only 1 percent of the ballots - mostly from secessionist Chechnya - need to be counted.
The two front-runners each launched immediate efforts to join forces with Lebed and thereby attract his approximately 10.7 million partisans - a formidable swing vote.