MOSCOW -- Security chief Alexander I. Lebed, launching a burst of political jockeying by presidential hopefuls in the Kremlin, warned yesterday that Russia was "slipping into the abyss" because of a power vacuum created by President Boris N. Yeltsin's illness.
"We are at a dangerous limit, a very dangerous limit," Lebed told a news conference at which he painted a dire picture of deep instability in Russia.
"If one-sixth of the world starts to crumble and explode, everybody will be buried under the rubble."
The former general's citation of potentially catastrophic problems confronting Russia coincided with predictions that it was open season on the presidency in the wake of Wednesday's decision by physicians to delay heart bypass surgery on Yeltsin for six to 10 weeks.
Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, Lebed's chief rival should Yeltsin fail to complete his five-year second term, called on his Cabinet to avoid political gamesmanship during Yeltsin's prolonged hospitalization.
"If members of the government start playing any kind of game there, in the State Duma [lower house of parliament], I warn them that whoever they are, whatever their rank, they will not work here," the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.
Among the crises facing the country, Lebed said:
The army has bought no new equipment, is owed more than $1 billion for salaries alone and is "on the brink of mutiny."
Russia is courting another Chernobyl, with 19 nuclear power plants that will be "totally obsolete" and need to be decommissioned by the year 2010.
More than a million foreign immigrants with no clear status are a source of crime, while as many as 6 million internal refugees are rootless and without aid.
In the arctic regions of the Far East, only one-sixth of the fuel and food needed to weather the winter had been received by Sept. 1.
Pub Date: 9/27/96