MOSCOW -- In a bold challenge to President Boris N. Yeltsin, his security adviser, Alexander Lebed, said yesterday that the Russian leader's illness had left the nation adrift and suggested that he temporarily step down.
Over the past week, Lebed has warned of army mutinies, new Chernobyls and the loss of Russia's scientific expertise. The not-so-subtle subtext of his remarks has been that the Yeltsin government has led Russia into a morass and that the nation's problems could be fixed only if Lebed is given more power.
But Lebed's latest comments were unusually pointed and directly challenged the power-transfer arrangement that Yeltsin and his aides have developed to run the country during the president's illness.
In an interview with the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets, Lebed said that the president's heart problems had left unclear who was in charge and that Yeltsin aides were taking advantage of the power vacuum.
"There is a president, and at the same time there is no president," Lebed said. "A very dangerous precedent is taking place when the country is controlled on behalf of the president," he added. "This does not suit me at all."
Lebed said that the president should issue a decree transferring his authority to a top official and reclaim his powers only after he had recuperated from his operation.
"I would prefer to deal with at least a temporary boss," Lebed said. "And this boss must know that he is responsible for everything, for good and for bad."
Because Yeltsin's operation is not scheduled to take place for some six weeks and because he will need several months to recover from his heart bypass operation, Lebed is in effect proposing that the president relinquish his authority for three or four months.
Lebed couched his complaint in terms of the need to straighten out the lines of authority. But it is clear that Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin is playing the primary role in the day-to-day management of the government in consultation with Yeltsin.
By charging that the government had allowed the military to deteriorate to the point of mutiny, as Lebed did earlier last week, he was in effect accusing the prime minister and other top aides of not doing their jobs.
Lebed's sensational comments also kept him in the public eye and strengthened his ties with the Russian military, an important constituency in the struggle for power.
Many Russian officers have been uncomfortable with Lebed's dovish stand on Chechnya. Lebed's demand that the government promptly pay soldiers back wages was a way for him to try to repair his ties with the military.
With Yeltsin in the hospital, the troika engaged in the day-to-day management of the government is made up of Chernomyrdin; Anatoly Chubais, Yeltsin's chief of staff; and Lebed.
In a bid to restrain Lebed, Yeltsin recently signed a decree giving Chernomyrdin control over the most important government departments. And Chernomyrdin plans to demonstrate his increased authority soon by convening a meeting of the Defense Council.
Pub Date: 9/29/96