Skip to main content /WORLD /WORLD

Russian politician killed in crash

Lebed found fame when he refused coup leaders' orders to send his paratroopers to surround Yeltsin's headquarters
Lebed found fame when he refused coup leaders' orders to send his paratroopers to surround Yeltsin's headquarters  

MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Alexander Lebed, who played an important role in foiling the 1991 coup against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and ran for president against Boris Yeltsin five years later, has died in a helicopter crash, officials said.

The 52-year-old governor of the vast Krasnoyarsk territory of Siberia died in hospital after the Mi-8 in which he was travelling came down on Sunday morning near the town of Abakan, about 3,400 km (2,100 miles) east of Moscow, Russian television reported.

There were 19 people, including a three-member crew, aboard the helicopter when it crashed after hitting a power line, The Associated Press reported the Emergency Situations Ministry in Moscow as saying. Seven, including Lebed, died, and 12 were in critical condition in hospital, a ministry official said.

CNN's Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty said the pugnacious, outspoken action man was hugely popular.

Lebed: Action man who nearly led Russia 
Would Alexander Lebed have been a good Russian president?

View Results


"Built like a bear and hands like a vice, he was gruff, outspoken and didn't kowtow to anyone," she said. "This came across on TV and really appealed to Russians."

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his condolences to the families of all those killed in the crash, the ITAR-Tass news agency said.

A military man for most of his life, Lebed first gained fame during the August 1991 coup against Gorbachev. The coup leaders ordered him to send in his paratroopers to surround the headquarters of Russian President Boris Yeltsin. He refused, a move that to a large degree led to the coup's collapse.

In 1995 after a dispute with the defence minister Lebed was forced to retire from the military. The father of three turned to politics and won a seat in parliament. A year later, he ran for president, coming in third. Yeltsin named him head of the Presidential Security Council where he brokered an end to the first war in the breakaway republic of Chechnya.

In 1998 Lebed was elected governor of Krasnoyarsk, an area four times the size of France, where he quickly ruffled feathers, falling foul of local business barons who helped him become governor but whom he later called "mafia." Lebed called in police investigators from Moscow to help stamp his authority.

Alexei Arbatov, deputy head of parliamentary defence committee, said Lebed's passing was likely to upset a shaky political balance in the region which hinged to a vast degree on the charismatic governor's popularity.

"Passions will be boiling and big money will come into play," Arbatov told Ekho Moskvy radio. "In a region like Krasnoyarsk, the life and fate of large capitals, groupings and influential individuals depend on the governor.

Arbatov said Lebed had made many enemies in Krasnoyarsk and said the crash might have been orchestrated by one of them.

There were journalists on board, too, she said, the weather was bad and it appeared the helicopter had simply flown into the power lines in near-zero visibility.

A commission to investigate the crash, headed by Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, has been set up, Interfax reported.

-- CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty contributed to this report




Back to the top