Lebed accused of planning ‘mutiny’; Yeltsin concerned

MOSCOW (AP) — The battle for power around an ailing Boris Yeltsin took a sharp new turn Wednesday when Russia’s interior minister accused his rival, Alexander Lebed, of plotting a “mutiny” and announced he was calling a security alert in major cities.
The sensational allegation by Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov, who heads the nation’s police, was immediately denied by Lebed as a provocation and nonsense. Lebed, the national security chief, has made no secret of his desire to be president but says he supports the democratic system.
Yeltsin, sidelined at a health spa outside Moscow and awaiting heart surgery, was “highly concerned,” said his spokesman. Yeltsin demanded an urgent explanation from Kulikov and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.
Yeltsin’s own entourage, meanwhile, was playing down a Moscow radio report Tuesday that his surgery was unlikely “in the foreseeable future” because he was anemic with a low hemoglobin count. Yeltsin’s doctor, Sergei Mironov, said Wednesday that “there are no grounds to say that Boris Yeltsin cannot undergo surgery” and that the operation would be in mid-November.
Bond markets in Europe and the United States slumped following Kulikov’s claim that Lebed was planning to take power by force.
The speaker of parliament, Communist Gennady Seleznyov, said the accusation seemed like “a practical joke,” but that it should be looked into.
Kulikov’s accusations were the latest in the war of words between the two powerful officials.
Lebed blamed Kulikov publicly last summer for Russia’s failure in the disastrous war in Chechnya and demanded his ouster. Kulikov accused Lebed in August of “a maniacal striving for power.” Earlier this month, the interior minister accused Lebed of “high treason” for signing a peace accord with Chechen separatists.
A day after Lebed told closed-door parliamentary hearings that Kulikov was among those responsible for prolonging the bloody war, the interior minister fired back at a news conference Wednesday.
He said Lebed had colluded with Chechen rebels in signing an agreement intended to propel him into the presidency.
Kulikov also accused him of organizing a “creeping coup” and of seeking to create his own military force numbering up to 50,000 fighters and entrusted with eliminating supposed threats to national security.
Claiming Chechen groups were believed to be planning attacks, he told Russia’s NTV independent television that security was being tightened in Moscow and other large cities threatened with attack.
He said Chernomyrdin had agreed to the plan, which includes unspecified measures involving the Federal Security Service together with police forces.
Kulikov also accused Lebed of seeking a new Russian Legion to deal with “stopping internal conflicts in the country,” including carrying out assassinations of leaders of political parties, separatist movements and other groups that might endanger national security.
The Chechen separatist leadership called Kulikov’s accusations absurd and said he was trying to undermine the peace settlement by discrediting Lebed.
Lebed told reporters Kulikov’s assertions were nonsense and again demanded Kulikov’s ouster.
He confirmed he had sent documents to the interior and defense ministries proposing the creation of special brigades of 3,000 soldiers in each region, and had gotten answers saying they could be created by the end of 1999. He said he told lawmakers of the plan the previous day and also had told Yeltsin.
Lebed, a former paratroop general who placed third in presidential elections, has sought more funding for the military and objected to cuts in the army.
Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, striking back at Lebed, said Wednesday that he will stand by plans to cut the airborne forces. He has proposed cutting the airborne troops from 64,300 to 48,500; Lebed has called that “criminal.”
Lebed has also sought control over Russia’s so-called “power ministries,” including Kulikov’s Interior Ministry, which has tens of thousands of troops and is in charge of police and some elite paramilitary forces.
Yeltsin has repeatedly intervened to quell the feud between the two powerful officials. Just this week, he demanded that Lebed, Kulikov and other top officials work out an agreed stance on Chechnya.