A Russian Sacked ...

Alexander Lebed, the iron-willed former general who is currently Russia's most popular politician, ran up an impressive record during his short stay in the Kremlin. He personally saw to it that the war in Chechnya was halted. And he was able to make a start, at least, on translating his railing against crime and corruption into action.

But he also managed to tread on almost everyone's feet in the process. Other members of the Yeltsin hierarchy were doubtless relieved when the president showed Mr. Lebed the door.

Where does a war hero yearning for power go now? Lebed says he's going to plunge into politics, gearing up, supposedly, for a try at the presidency. But, health problems aside, Boris Yeltsin has that job locked up until the year 2000. How does Lebed, a political novice, maintain his high public profile meanwhile?

This is a man of jarring contradictions: a backer of the new, open politics who has sometimes voiced intolerance toward religious minorities; an ardent nationalist who passionately resists using Russian might against rebellious peoples like the Chechens.

In many ways, he personifies the tensions and divisions besetting Russia as it tries to wrest itself free of a totalitarian past. He may have a constructive role to play in the country's future. But only if he, like that country, can keep the contradictions and swings of passion within the bounds of law and democratic process.

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