Lebed's Mission: Use New Powers To Find Peace
KREMLIN STAR IN CHECHNYA
In a matter of days, Russia's new national security chief Alexander Lebed has overcome apparent Kremlin resistance to win sweeping personal authority over the armed forces and ministries of the Russian government.Skip to next paragraph
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His newly concentrated powers are for resolving Russia's civil war in Chechnya, which has escalated in the last 10 days into Russia's most pressing and urgent problem.
Yesterday, Mr. Lebed took this new clout to Chechnya, his second trip there in a week, to try to negotiate a cease-fire and work out a diplomatic resolution of the 20-month conflict. The outcome of his efforts could make a huge impact on Russian politics.
"If Lebed stops the war, he will be the next president of this country," says Andrei Piontkowsky, a political analyst here. This possibility puts democratic-minded reformers and other potential presidents - such as Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin - in an ambivalent position, says Mr. Piontkowsky. They must hope Lebed succeeds in ending a corrosive and so far utterly futile war, he says, "but they don't want to create a czar."
Yesterday, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin named most of the Cabinet ministers and other senior officials who will make up the government for the second term of President Boris Yeltsin.
The makeup of the government reflects a strengthening position for liberal or centrist democrats. The stock prices of leading Russian companies rose 7 to 8 percent after the new Cabinet was announced.
Also, one of the last remaining allies of the so-called party of war in President Yeltsin's entourage, Oleg Lobov, was demoted after already being replaced on Saturday by Lebed as presidential envoy to Chechnya.
Lebed's strong new profile in the government fits the new pattern in the government's organization, Mr. Chernomyrdin said yesterday in announcing the changes. "The main ideological principle in the formation of the government is the concentration on key points, in key directions, and an increase in personal responsibility" of senior officials. "Chechnya is our first problem, and everybody will work on this problem," he said.
In the past 10 days, tens of thousands of refugees have scuttled out of the Chechen capital under fire and heavy loss of life in what has been a humiliation of the numerically far superior Russian forces. Since the war began in late 1994, at least 30,000 people have been killed, the vast majority of them Chechen civilians.
The decree outlying Lebed's powers had not been publicly released yet, as of yesterday. On Monday, Lebed said he was asking Yeltsin for the power of command over military forces in Chechnya, operational control over the activities of all Russian agencies in Chechnya, the authority to oversee and police the disbursement of funds intended for reconstruction of Chechnya, and the authority to hire and fire government officials in all ministries and departments whose work touches on Chechnya up to the level of deputy minister.