Yeltsin aides engage in power struggle Security chief, premier reportedly at odds over control of policy

July 06, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MOSCOW -- Two days after President Boris N. Yeltsin scored a resounding re-election victory, his top aides are involved in a bruising and very public struggle for power.

Tension between the new security chief, Alexander Lebed, and the reappointed prime minister, Victor Chernomyrdin, has simmered for weeks as Lebed boldly outlined his outsized ambitions, including shaping economic policy and positioning himself as Yeltsin's successor.

Lebed, a former general who was brought into the Yeltsin camp only after he took third place in the first round of presidential voting on June 16, seemed at first to have bullied his way to the top.

But Chernomyrdin has regained the upper hand, and his allies are sternly lecturing Lebed to restrain his push for power and curb his tongue.

Anatoly B. Chubais, a former deputy prime minister and a key Yeltsin campaign official, rebuked Lebed yesterday, casting him as a hungry young politician who is in too much of a hurry.

"This demand of Alexander Ivanovich Lebed for broader powers is a serious mistake of a novice state leader," Chubais said.

Compounding the insult, Chubais also mocked Lebed's nationalist blasts against the Mormons and other religious groups that he has complained are proselytizing in Russia.

"There are some shortcomings regarding the balance and profundity of his statements," Chubais said, adding sarcastically: "It is quite possible, though, that he confused Mormons and Masons. Such things happen."

The official position notwithstanding, Lebed's supporters have made it clear that they want their standard-bearer to bring to the government the same uncompromising attitude he exhibited on the campaign trail.

"Lebed is not inclined to play the political games according to the rules established in the Kremlin," said Aleksei Golovkov, a campaign aide to Lebed and the deputy chairman of Parliament's budget committee. "Either he will be squeezed out of these games and will be compelled to leave, or the rules of the game will be changed."

American officials have been following the Kremlin intrigue closely, especially in light of reports that Yeltsin's health may be faltering. They said Yeltsin was clearly boosting Chernomyrdin over Lebed by picking the prime minister to oversee the formation of the new Cabinet. Yeltsin also mentioned Chernomyrdin favorably in a 25-minute phone conversation with President Clinton yesterday, U.S. officials said.

But some specialists said Yeltsin could not afford to alienate his popular aide totally for fear that he might resign and stage a crusade against the government.

From the start, Lebed has been outspoken and stubbornly determined. A paratrooper by training, Lebed headed the 14th Army in Moldova, a former Soviet republic. Forced into retirement by the defense minister at the time, Lebed turned politician, appealing to Russians longing for a strong hand to bring order.

Before the presidential runoff Wednesday, Yeltsin invited Lebed to serve as his national security adviser and head of his Security Council.

But Lebed raised concerns among Yeltsin aides, doing nothing to hide his ambition to replace his new political mentor. He even suggested the creation of a new post of vice president, to which he might be appointed.

Asked by a German magazine if thought he might become president after the end of Yeltsin's term in 2000, Lebed gruffly replied, "Possibly sooner," an impolitic reference to the president's uncertain health.

Pub Date: 7/06/96

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