Yeltsin Sacks 7 Generals In Pre-Vote Maneuvering
In a burst of pre-election “realpolitik,” Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin bowed to the wishes of his popular new security chief, Alexander I. Lebed, on Tuesday and fired seven army generals whom Lebed accused last week of plotting a coup.
The seven were close to hawkish former Defense Minister Pavel S. Grachev, the Kremlin’s most hated figure. Yeltsin sacked him last week to please Lebed.
A consummate politician, Yeltsin is taking crowd-pleasing steps before Russia’s July 3 presidential runoff after finishing just three percentage points ahead of Communist Gennady A. Zyuganov in the first round of voting, with 35 percent to Zyuganov’s 32 percent.
Russian political analysts agree that Yeltsin’s masterstroke so far has been to win over Lebed by appointing him head of the powerful Security Council. The gravel-voiced retired general won a surprising 15 percent of votes in the first round with his law-and-order platform.
“Yeltsin’s main and only task at the moment is to get re-elected. By signing up Lebed, Yeltsin proved himself the best and cleverest politician in town,” political commentator Pavel Felgengauer said.
But liberals are concerned about how far Yeltsin will go to accommodate his new ally, whose sympathies tend toward the authoritarian end of the political spectrum, and what the rise of Lebed means for Russia’s fragile democracy.
Tuesday’s dismissals may be a sign of harsher times to come, the daily newspaper Izvestia said in an analysis headlined “Sackings, Lebed-style.”
Evidence of the seven generals’ involvement in an actual coup plot remains hazy. The Interfax news agency quoted one of them, Col. Gen. Dmitry Kharchenko, as saying he was “staggered” and “never expected such a turn of events.”
Lebed, who was appointed at the same time Grachev was sacked early last week, created a stir on his first day in office by alleging that the generals wanted to pressure Yeltsin into keeping their minister in power. He called this a repeat of the 1991 coup attempt that nearly tumbled Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
Later, however, Lebed retreated from his dramatic statement, maintaining he had been misquoted and never intended to suggest a coup was in the offing.
“Many observers say the firings are not really justified. Some of the people fired are generals whose behavior compromised their rank and calling. But others really are injured innocents,” Izvestia said.
“What this shows is that Yeltsin is willing to satisfy a lot of the demands of his new security chief - or should we say all his demands?”