Getting to Know the General

The rise to political prominence of former Airborne Forces General Aleksandr Lebed, and especially his emphasis on law and order as the only real basis for proceeding with reforms, has raised the specter in the Russian mind of the proverbial Man on a White Horse, the military savior whose iron-fisted rule puts the national house in order. The image is not alien to post-Soviet Russians, many of whom well remember the charge of "Bonapartism" made by Nikita Khrushchev against the popular World War II hero Marshal Zhukov. By refusing to support the August 1991 coup, however, the Soviet military effectively hastened the collapse of the communist regime (Lebed is partly credited with keeping the Airborne Forces out of the political fracas), and Yeltsin's use of regular army troops to suppress the Supreme Soviet in October 1993 highlighted the crucial importance of military support for any prospective Russian leadership.

During the reformist era (beginning with Gorbachev and continuing today), the role of the military has been hotly debated. Military officers, civilian experts, and politicians have argued over the merits of an all-volunteer army, the structure and mission of the Russian military in the post-Cold War period, and military doctrine and strategy. The catalyst for much of this debate was the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan, which exposed the demoralized state of the army and the military's lack of preparedness...

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