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Russia's Gen. Lebed Latest Top Politician to Die

Friday, 03 May 2002 12:00 AM

It's very difficult to find anything democratic about recent events in Russia, despite the efforts of our liberal media to convince us otherwise. The Kremlin continues to concentrate all major state powers in the hands of President Putin and is destroying what is left of the roots of democracy by attacking the freedom and rights of the Russian people.

Those Russian political figures who oppose this totalitarian policy mysteriously disappear from political life, either emigrating to other countries or being murdered or dying under very suspicious circumstances.

Usually the liberal-left press does not inform Americans about these tragedies and tried this week to largely gloss over the mysterious death of one of Russia's most-prominent political figures – Gen. Alexander Lebed.

As the Russian media reported, the tough-talking and extremely popular general, who ran for president against Boris Yeltsin in 1996 and could have run against Vladimir Putin in 2004, died last Sunday in a helicopter crash.

Lebed's last job was as governor of the huge Siberian Krasnojarsk region, which is larger than France, and where the 52-year-old Afghan war veteran had ruffled many feathers, prompting suggestions that his death might not have been an accident.

Gen. Lebed was one of very few Russian politicians not connected directly with criminal syndicates and the only one who could really challenge Putin in a future presidential election.

A pugnacious paratroop commander with a gravel voice and blunt style, Lebed shot to prominence in 1991 when paratroop units under his command helped Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian Federation, which was then part of the former Soviet Union, thwart a KGB-backed coup against the first and last USSR president, Mikhail Gorbachev.

After the demise of the former Soviet Union, Gen. Lebed, a Cossack from the southern Russian city of Novocherkassk, grabbed headlines as he led Russia's 14th Army in ending a bloody conflict in the former Soviet Republic of Moldova in the summer of 1992.

Quitting the military service in 1995, Lebed entered parliament and ran against Yeltsin in the 1996 presidential election, promising to end crime and corruption in the post-Soviet economy.

He finished third, threw his support behind Yeltsin to help defeat Communist challenger Gennady Zyuganov, and took a senior position in the Kremlin's powerful Security Council.

From his new position, Mr. Lebed negotiated a peace deal with Chechen rebels, which led to the withdrawal of Moscow's troops from the separatist Chechnya territory.

Lebed became the only Russian official brave enough to make public the existence of portable tactical nuclear devices (so-called nuclear suitcase bombs), designed and produced in the former Soviet Union for its special operation forces.

He also made public the disappearance from Russia of about 100 of these devices, which were deployed in the U.S. and other countries considered by Moscow as its "main potential military adversaries," or enemies.

Seeing power slip from the ailing Yeltsin's hands, Lebed instigated a rift with him in 1996. His military experience, youthful dynamism and straight-shooting talk dramatically contrasted with the alcoholic incompetence, endemic corruption and Machiavellian wiles and maneuvers of Yeltsin and his inner circle in Moscow.

After a few months in the Security Council, he was fired by Yeltsin, who recovered from his last surgery and eventually paved the way for Vladimir Putin to take over the Kremlin.

The general retreated to regional politics and, in 1998, was elected governor of the Krasnojarsk region. Lebed was charismatic and former KGB agent Putin was not. The Russian people had high hopes for Gen. Lebed and expected nothing from Putin.

Speculation is already swirling in Moscow that Lebed's death was not an accident. Many Russian politicians refuse to rule out sabotage as the cause of the fatal helicopter crash. But of course we will never know the truth about Gen. Lebed's death, which is extremely advantageous for the Kremlin.

At the end of this month, President Bush will have another summit with his Russian counterpart, Putin, to discuss arms control, non-proliferation and other important questions.

It would be a good idea, however, for the recognized leader of the democratic world to discuss with a former KGB agent issues of democracy, freedoms and rights in Russia, which currently cannot be seen as a genuine member of the democratic world.

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It's very difficult to find anything democratic about recent events in Russia, despite the efforts of our liberal media to convince us otherwise. The Kremlin continues to concentrate all major state powers in the hands of President Putin and is destroying what is left...
Friday, 03 May 2002 12:00 AM
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