Alexander Lebed

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Alexander Lebed
Александр Лебедь
Lebed in 1996
3rd Governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai
In office
5 June 1998 – 28 April 2002
PresidentBoris Yeltsin
Vladimir Putin
Preceded byValery Zubov
Succeeded byAlexander Khloponin
Secretary of the Security Council
In office
18 June – 17 October 1996
PresidentBoris Yeltsin
Prime MinisterViktor Chernomyrdin
Preceded byOleg Lobov
Succeeded byIvan Rybkin
Personal details
Alexander Ivanovich Lebed

(1950-04-20)20 April 1950
Novocherkassk, Soviet Union
Died28 April 2002(2002-04-28) (aged 52)
Abakan, Russia
Political partyCongress of Russian Communities
SpouseInna Lebed
AwardsOrder of the Red Banner
Order of the Red Star
Order for Service to the Homeland in the Armed Forces of the USSR (2nd and 3rd class)
Military service
Allegiance Soviet Union
 Russian Federation
Branch/service Russian Airborne Troops
Years of service1969–1995
Rank Lieutenant general
Commands 106th Guards Airborne Division
14th Guards Army
Battles/warsSoviet–Afghan War
Transnistria War

Lieutenant General Alexander Ivanovich Lebed (Russian: Алекса́ндр Ива́нович Ле́бедь; 20 April 1950 – 28 April 2002) was a Soviet and Russian military officer and politician who held senior positions in the Airborne Troops before running for president in the 1996 Russian presidential election. He did not win, but placed third behind incumbent Boris Yeltsin and the Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, with roughly 14% of the vote nation-wide. Lebed later served as the Secretary of the Security Council in the Yeltsin administration, and eventually became the governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai, the second largest Russian region. He served four years in the latter position, until his death following a Mi-8 helicopter crash.

He participated in most of Russia's military conflicts in the final decade of the Soviet Union, including the Soviet–Afghan War. From 1988 until 1991, General Lebed served as the commander of the 106th Guards Airborne Division, and later became the deputy head of the Russian Airborne Troops. The general also played a key role in ending the military phase of the conflict in Moldova between Transnistrian separatists and the Moldovan government in 1992, as the commander of the Russian 14th Guards Army which intervened and occupied the region. Popular among the army, when he resigned his commission in 1995 to enter politics, Lebed was also regarded as being charismatic by the public, in contrast to other Russian politicians in the 1990s, with polls showing his popularity being ahead of Yeltsin's for some time. As the Secretary of the Security Council in the president's administration after the 1996 election he also led the negotiations that ended the First Chechen War.

Although Lebed was compared by some Western and Russian analysts to Augusto Pinochet and Napoleon Bonaparte, he was considered to be the most popular candidate for the presidential election of 2000 during the second term of President Yeltsin. After getting elected as governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai in 1998 with strong support from Anatoly Bykov, however, he decided to stay in that position and did not run for president, despite calls for him to do so.[1] General Lebed held the position until his death in the 2002 helicopter crash.[2]

Early life and service[edit]

Alexander Lebed was born in the Cossack town of Novocherkassk, in the Rostov Oblast, in 1950. In his youth he was not a bad student but preferred boxing and chess.[3] He grew up in poverty. His father was a carpenter who was sentenced to seven years in a Gulag labor camp for arriving late to work twice, and witnessed the Novocherkassk massacre in 1962.[4] During that time he worked at a factory.[5] He was determined to become a paratrooper and joined the Ryazan Guards Higher Airborne Command School in 1969, becoming a cadet platoon and company commander while he was there. In 1982, as an officer of the Soviet Airborne Troops, Lebed became a battalion commander in Afghanistan during the Soviet war there. During his time in Afghanistan, Lebed became popular with the troops under his command. He held this position until 1982 at which point he attended the Frunze Military Academy.[6][7] Among his duties was being a member of the funeral department during the period of many deaths among the Soviet gerontocracy, including three Soviet rulers.[8]

In 1988, Lebed became the commander of the 106th Guards Airborne Division. He and his troops took part in the suppression of uprisings throughout the Soviet Caucasus, in Georgia (1989) and Azerbaijan (1990), in which he refused to use brutality to put down the protestors. By 1991, Lebed held the rank of major general and became second in command of the Airborne Troops. During the 1991 coup d'état attempt by Soviet hardliners against the new Russian government, he gained fame by refusing to follow orders to lead his forces against Boris Yeltsin at the Russian White House, contributing to the coup's collapse.[6][9] It was also during that time that Lebed became a rival of General Pavel Grachev, Airborne Troops commander and future Russian Minister of Defense, due to what Lebed viewed to be his misguided military reforms. Grachev would thus become his main rival.[10] It was reportedly because of Grachev that Lebed found himself deployed to Moldova in 1992, as commander of the 14th Guards Army.[11] There, in the conflict between Russian and Romanian factions, he intervened and used his position to broker a peace agreement, also providing protection to ethnic Russians.[7][9][11] Despite this, Lebed remained hostile to the separatist leadership, which he perceived as corrupt and stated that he was "sick and tired of guarding the sleep and safety of crooks."[9][11] Nonetheless, he remained against President Boris Yeltsin's decision to withdraw most of the 14th Army from Moldova, as he feared it would bring back chaos to the region.[12]

General Lebed's actions in Moldova increased his popularity among the Russian public, and Russian nationalists in particular.[13] The event, along with his past service record, ensured that Lebed was the most popular military officer in Russia during that time, and by 1994 he was considered to be a favorite candidate for potentially running against Yeltsin in the 1996 Russian presidential election.[9][12][3] Lebed himself described Yeltsin's performance as a "minus."[14] Some analysts both in the West and Russia compared him to Augusto Pinochet[15] and Napoleon Bonaparte.[14][16]

Entry into politics[edit]

After catching public attention with his actions in Moldova in 1992, the general came to be perceived as being an honest, anti-establishment patriot who stood against government corruption and wanted to restore order. Lebed was not necessarily in favor of democracy and had a mixed opinion of it, but did praise both Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet—saying that Pinochet was able to revive Chile by "putting the army in first place" because "preserving the army is the basis for preserving the government"—and the French leader Charles de Gaulle.

General Lebed ended up joining the centrist, nationalistic political movement known as the Congress of Russian Communities.[9][14][17] He retired from the army in 1995 in order to enter politics and won a State Duma seat in December of that year.[14]

Presidential campaign[edit]

Shortly after winning a seat in the State Duma, Lebed officially launched his long-anticipated campaign for the Russian presidency in the 1996 election.

Lebed ran as a "law and order" candidate promising to curb both street crime and government corruption,[18] as well as also promising to end the unpopular First Chechen War that had been started by President Yeltsin in 1994.[18][19] For economic policy he hinted that he supported market reforms that were ongoing at the time, but remained deliberately vague.

Due to his populist rhetoric, Lebed was compared to Vladimir Zhirinovsky, but lacking the latter's aggressive nationalism.[18] Lebed's style and personal charisma were considered to have been more important to his campaign than his political message itself.[20] Up through May, Lebed flirted with the possibility of forming third force coalition with other candidates, however negotiations for this failed.

In the first round of the election on 16 June 1996, he came in third place behind Yeltsin and Zyuganov, with 14.7% of the vote.[21] In exchange for Lebed's support, Yeltsin sacked his rival Defense Minister Grachev,[11][22][23] replacing him with Igor Rodionov at Lebed's request.[24] There was some evidence that Lebed had dealings with Yeltsin before the election ended.[18] After the first round, Yeltsin named General Lebed as national security head by appointing him as the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia.[23]

Career in government[edit]

Lebed with President Vladimir Putin, 2002
Lebed on a 2007 stamp of Transnistria
Lebed on a 2017 stamp of Transnistria

Chairmanship of the Security Council[edit]

Shortly after taking office as chairman of the Security Council, following Yeltsin's victory against Zyuganov in the July 1996 runoff, Lebed led negotiations with the Chechen President, Aslan Maskhadov. They signed agreements in the town of Khasavyurt in Dagestan which ended the First Chechen War in late August 1996. Lebed was given authority as President Yeltsin's representative and the resulting agreement became known as the Khasavyurt Accords.[25][26]

However, the ending of the Chechen War by the general brought him into conflict with Minister of Internal Affairs Army General Anatoly Kulikov and his faction.[27] He was fired from the Security Council by President Yeltsin in October 1996, following an internal conflict within the government between Lebed and a faction that included president's chief of staff, Anatoly Chubais (who was regarded as being in control of the ailing Yeltsin's administration), Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, and Interior Minister Kulikov. Yeltsin stated that he was "acting without proper authority" and Chernomyrdin accused General Lebed of "Bonapartism", while Kulikov even claimed Lebed was plotting a coup.[28]

Chubais was also worried about the potential of Lebed becoming Yeltsin's successor, as he was the most popular member of the administration, especially after ending the Chechen war. After Chernomyrdin and Kulikov made their accusations, it caused a scandal that led to the President firing Lebed as national security chief.[29] The general nonetheless decided to remain in politics.[30]

2000 presidential election speculation[edit]

After his firing, there was some indication that General Lebed intended to run for the presidency again in the 2000 Russian presidential election. His visit to the United States in January 1997 was viewed as an effort to win over American business interests as the best successor to Yeltsin, and included a meeting with Donald Trump at Trump Tower. Reportedly, he discussed potential construction projects in Moscow that Trump could be involved in. "He invited me to Russia and I accepted, I thought he was terrific," Trump said after the meeting.

One Western analyst stated about Lebed, "He may perceive that Yeltsin benefited greatly from support from the Americans in the last campaign. Bill Clinton made a trip to Moscow during the campaign. And the International Monetary Fund extended loans that enabled the Government to make credible promises to pay wages." He also visited President Clinton's inauguration while he was there, at the invitation of Senator William Roth, who made the request at the behest of an unknown businessman. Overall Lebed was said to have left a good impression on the American businessmen that he met.[31][32] During that time, he was described as being the most popular candidate for the Russian presidency.[33]

On 7 September 1997, Lebed alleged during an interview that a hundred Soviet-made suitcase-sized nuclear weapons designed for sabotage "are not under the control of the armed forces of Russia". The government of the Russian Federation rejected Lebed's claims and stated that such weapons had never been created.[34]

Governorship of Krasnoyarsk Krai[edit]

In 1998, the general decided to run for governor of the Krasnoyarsk Krai (the second largest region in Russia), wanting to get out of the politics in Moscow after his ouster from the Yeltsin administration. He ended up winning the election for governor, defeating the incumbent Valery Zubov, despite being a complete outsider. There was speculation that he would run for the presidency in 2000, with Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov being projected as his main opponent at that time.[35][36] However, in 2000 Lebed decided against running for president because he was satisfied with his position as the governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai.[7][37]


While serving as Governor, Lebed died in a Mil Mi-8 helicopter crash on 28 April 2002. The helicopter collided with electric lines during foggy weather in the Sayan Mountains.[6] Alexei Arbatov, then member of the State Duma for the liberal Yabloko party, called sabotage a possible reason of the crash.[38]

Lebed was survived by his wife, Inna, two sons, a daughter, and his brother Aleksey.[39] Aleksey Lebed served as Head of the Republic of Khakassia from 1997 to 2009.

Political views[edit]

During his time in Moldova, the general called the separatist Transnistrian government "hooligans" and considered the Moldovan authorities as "fascists".[40] He also called fellow politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky "the Lord God's monkey."[41]

Lebed did not consider Ukraine and Belarus to be separate countries from Russia,[citation needed] nor did he consider the Ukrainian and Belarusian languages separate from the Russian.[citation needed] In 1995 he believed both countries would become part of a new state, on a confederal basis with the Russian Federation, at the end of the 20th century.[42] General Lebed was also strongly against the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe initially,[30][43] but by 1997 had changed his attitude to be more accepting of the idea.[31][33] However, in March 1997 Lebed stated that he believed its expansion would destabilize the alliance and that it was the result of Cold War thinking, which would cause Russia to become authoritarian in response.[44]


  1. ^ Тарасов, Алексей (Tarasov, Alexey) (15 June 2020). "Минотавр выходит на свет: Власть помогла бригадиру Анатолию Быкову подмять под себя криминальный Красноярск. Но пропустила, как он сам стал властью. Документальная повесть" [Minotaur comes to light: The authorities helped the foreman Anatoly Bykov to crush the criminal Krasnoyarsk. But he missed how he became the authority. Documentary story]. Novaya Gazeta (in Russian). Retrieved 8 April 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ "Russia: Lebed Dies In Helicopter Crash". Moscow: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 28 April 2002. Retrieved 23 November 2018.
  3. ^ a b Specter, Michael (13 October 1996). THE WARS OF ALEKSANDR IVANOVICH LEBED. The New York Times. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  4. ^ Applebaum, Anne, 1964- (2003). Gulag : a history (1st ed.). New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0-7679-0056-1. OCLC 51086337.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  5. ^ Traynor, Ian (28 April 2002). General Alexander Lebed. The Guardian. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  6. ^ a b c Alexander Lebed. The Telegraph (29 April 2002). Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  7. ^ a b c Russia's Alexander Lebed laid to rest. BBC News (30 April 2002). Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  8. ^ Sandle, Mark; Bacon, Edwin (2002). Brezhnev Reconsidered. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-333-79463-0.
  9. ^ a b c d e Biography of Alexander Lebed. Central Connecticut State University. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  10. ^ Cornwall, Rupert (25 September 2012). Pavel Grachev: General and politician who came unstuck in Chechnya. The Independent. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  11. ^ a b c d Daniszewski, John (29 April 2002). Russian Politician Lebed Killed in Crash. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  12. ^ a b Barber, Tony (16 August 1994). Power struggle sparks unrest in Moldova. The Independent. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  13. ^ His time had gone. The Economist (2 May 2002). Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  14. ^ a b c d IS LEBED A BOON OR BANE TO RUSSIAN DEMOCRACY?. Associated Press (26 July 1996). Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  15. ^ King, Charles (15 February 1995). A Russian Pinochet Waits In the (Very Distant) Wings. The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  16. ^ Lebed: Action man who nearly led Russia. CNN (28 April 2002). Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  17. ^ Felgenhauser, Paul (14 December 2006). THE RUSSIAN LOVE AFFAIR WITH PINOCHET. Jamestown Foundation. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  18. ^ a b c d Willians, Carol J. (18 June 1996). Law-and-Order Candidate Finds Himself in Role of Kingmaker. Los Angeles Times.
    McFaul, Michael (1997). Russia's 1996 Presidential Election: The End of Polarized Politics. Hoover Institution Press. pp. 51–53. ISBN 978-0817995027.
  19. ^ Hockstader, Lee (23 August 1996). YELTSIN CHIDES LEBED OVER CHECHEN WAR. The Washington Post. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  20. ^ Devlin, Judith (1999). Slavophiles and Commissars: Enemies of Democracy in Modern Russia. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 189. ISBN 978-0333699331.
  21. ^ Runoff seems nearly certain in Russian election. CNN (17 June 1996). Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  22. ^ Geyer, Georgie Anne (21 June 1996). Gen. Lebed Becoming Russia's Kingmaker. Chicago Tribune (2 September 2017).
  23. ^ a b Yeltsin bolsters runoff bid, names ex-rival security chief. CNN (18 June 1996). Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  24. ^ Spolar, Christine (16 August 1996). YELTSIN MAKES KEY APPOINTMENTS TO NEW CABINET. The Washington Post. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
  25. ^ Reeves, Phil (31 August 1996). Lebed wins over the Chechens. The Independent. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  26. ^ Kelbnikov, Paul (1 November 1999). Conflagration in Russia. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  27. ^ Reeves, Phil (16 August 1996). Lebed blasts rival for fuelling Chechen war. The Independent. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  28. ^ Lebed Dismissed But Not Tamed. The Heritage Foundation (23 October 1996). Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  29. ^ Goldfarb, Alex (2014). Death of a Dissident: The Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Return of the KGB. Free Press. pp. 97–99. ISBN 978-0817995027.
  30. ^ a b "Rebuke to a Russian strongman Lebed's ouster: Yeltsin's infirmity is too big an invitation to others' ambitions". The Baltimore Sun. 18 October 1996.
  31. ^ a b Swarns, Rachel L. (23 January 1997). "Unlikely Meeting of Minds: Lebed Meets The Donald". The New York Times.
  32. ^ Singer, Mark (19 May 1997). Trump Solo. The New Yorker. Retrieved 3 September 2017.
  33. ^ a b Geyer, Georgie Anne (21 January 1997). Gen. Alexander Lebed Discusses Russia's Future Archived 5 September 2017 at the Wayback Machine. Uexpress. Retrieved 3 September 2017.
  34. ^ "Suitcase Nukes": A Reassessment, 2002 article by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies
  35. ^ Former Gen. Lebed Seeks Governor Post. Chicago Tribune (12 February 1998). Retrieved 3 September 2017.
  36. ^ Paul, Anthony (23 November 1998). Is This Face The Of Russia's Future? Alexander Lebed has been a boxer, a soldier, and a governor. Now he wants to be President. Would that be good for Russia?. Fortune Magazine. Retrieved 3 September 2017.
  37. ^ Alexander Lebed and the Year 2,000 Russian Presidential Race. Bill's Bible Basics (9 October 1998). Retrieved 3 September 2017.
  38. ^ "Death of Lebed in crash may have been sabotage". The Irish Times. 29 April 2002.
  39. ^ Lebed, Alexander (1997). General Alexander Lebed: My Life and My Country. Regnery Publishing. pp. 27, 53. ISBN 978-0895264220.
  40. ^ Humphries, Richard (8 October 2001). Transnistria: relic of a bygone era. The Japan Times. Retrieved 1 April 2008
  41. ^ Zhirinovsky: Russia's political eccentric. BBC News (10 March 2000). Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  42. ^ Kuzio, Taras (1998). Contemporary Ukraine: Dynamics of Post-Soviet Transformation. M.E. Sharpe. p. 35. ISBN 978-0765631503.
  43. ^ Bellamy, Christopher (7 October 1996). Nato should have good news for Alexander Lebed. The Independent. Retrieved 2 September 2017.
  44. ^ Black, J. L. (1999). Russia Faces NATO Expansion: Bearing Gifts or Bearing Arms?. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers. p. 35. ISBN 978-0847698660.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Secretary of the Security Council
Succeeded by
Preceded by Governor of the Krasnoyarsk Krai
Succeeded by