Lebed Skips Opening Meeting Of High-Level Defense CouncilBy David Hoffman
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, October 5 1996; Page A19
National security chief Alexander Lebed, who threatened to resign this week, today skipped the first meeting of a high-level council formed to examine military reform, which has been one of Lebed's priorities.
Lebed's surprising absence came after President Boris Yeltsin dressed him down on Thursday and named a rival, Yuri Baturin, to be secretary of the new defense council, thereby stripping some of Lebed's powers over military appointments. Lebed, who threatened to quit over the Baturin choice, was busy studying papers, aides reported.
Lebed, who is certain to be a presidential contender if Yeltsin leaves office, has become increasingly popular, and polls now show he enjoys the highest level of public confidence of any politician in Russia.
Interfax news agency reported that the participants today, including Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, began to examine "serious reorganization" of the military. Rodionov, at a news conference called this week to push for additional money, complained that service chiefs and generals were unwilling to make cuts in their own troops as part of the needed restructuring. "Everybody is saying that it is necessary to reform," Rodionov said, "but when it comes to making decisions . . . they start refusing."
Today, apparently as part of Rodionov's effort to consolidate his control over the military, Yeltsin dismissed six generals, including the head of the airborne forces, Gen. Yevgeny Podkolzin. The hospitalized Yeltsin is nominally head of the new defense council but did not attend the meeting.
Pavel Felgengauer, the military commentator for the liberal daily newspaper Sevodnya, said the dismissal was evidence that Rodionov would fire those generals who resist his plans. Among others dismissed was the head of the military space forces, Gen. Vladimir Ivanov; Gen. Vladimir Zhurbenko, first deputy chief of the general staff; and three defense ministry department heads, according to Interfax.