The American Interest

In Memoriam: Gen. Alexander Lebed, 1950-2002

When I first met General Alexander Lebed, shortly after he was forced to retire from his military career in 1995, he was a crusty soldier with great political ambitions, itching for action but visibly uncomfortable in mufti.  His tie knot was too wide and his parade-ground bass sounded coarse and unmodulated.  His face, with more than a hint of the Asian steppe, bore the marks of many brawls.  His views on Russia’s predicament, mostly grim but stated with simplicity and conviction, were refreshingly clear in a city brimming with “experts” who sought to rationalize their country’s economic and political collapse.  Lebed did not oppose capitalism—“real competition is good, healthy”—but he hated its Mafioso-monopolistic variety rampant in President Boris Yeltsin’s Russia and resented the resulting reduction of his countrymen to the status of “beggars.”  He accepted the Soviet Union’s disintegration but wanted clear guarantees of the rights of millions of Russians stranded in the successor states; he rose to national prominence because of his support, in 1992, of the Russians’ demand for self-rule in Moldova’s Trans-Dniester region.

The news of Lebed’s death in a helicopter crash on April 28 did not merit front-page treatment in the West, but, at the time of our first encounter, he was regarded as a man of destiny. ...

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