Magazine article Insight on the News

Yeltsin's Move Renders Lebed Czar Struck

Magazine article Insight on the News

Yeltsin's Move Renders Lebed Czar Struck

Article excerpt

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall inherit the Earth," the Sermon on the Mount promises. But it is by no means clear that being a peacemaker in Chechnya will help Gen. Alexander Lebed inherit the Kremlin.

The extraordinary power struggle going on in the Kremlin over how to settle the bloody regional conflict that has cost at least 31,000 lives has assumed a crazy quilt aspect Hawks have become doves and doves revealed themselves as hawks.

President Boris Yeltsin, backed by the Clinton administration through thick and thin as democracy's last best hope in Russia, even while his troops slaughtered thousands of Chechen civilians, is undermining the man who is energetically seeking to end the war - his own national security adviser Alexander Lebed, a fire-eating hard-line nationalist hero and combat general With a cynicism and chutzpah breathtaking even for Russian politics. Yeltsin publicly has criticized Lebed for failing to make sufficient progress to end the Chechen war.

As a presidential candidate, Lebed had promised to solve the problem if he came to power but had not yet produced results, the Russian president lamented He made the remarks the same day Lebed concluded a sweeping cease-fire agreement with Chechen Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov in August. Lebed had only been charged with handling Chechen issues for one week. In that time, he made more progress than Yeltsin and his handpicked ministers managed in the previous 20 months.

Yeltsin's dramatic return to the political fray the third week of August also gave the lie to the latest series of speculations that he was no longer fit to control affairs. Instead, the wily, Machiavellian intriguer in the Kremlin seems to have taken a leaf out of Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaopeng's book.

When Deng ordered the Chinese army to slaughter the pro-democracy demonstrators camped out in Beijing Tianamnen Square in June 1989, he himself disappeared from sight for weeks on end, and rumor after rumor was energetically fed to the Western media in the Chinese capital that the he was seriously ill, or dead, or held captive after an army takeover. There were even fevered reports carried breathlessly on American network television that the two main Peoples Liberation Army corps in and around Beijing were on the verge of starting a shooting war that would reduce all China to the anarchy and chaos of 1920s warlordism.

There was not a word of truth to an of it, as The Washington Times correspondent in Beijing, Edward Neilan, a veteran East Asia hand, wearily explained to anyone who would listen. …

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