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Yeltsin bolsters runoff bid, names ex-rival security chief

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June 18, 1996
Web posted at: 9:00 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT)

MOSCOW (CNN) -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin acted swiftly Tuesday to rally support for his presidential election runoff, naming retired Gen. Alexander Lebed as the head of national security.

In a separate move, Yeltsin fired his unpopular defense minister, Pavel Grachev, a longtime rival of Lebed's.

Lebed, an Afghan war hero, finished a strong third in Sunday's presidential election with nearly 15 percent of the vote. Analysts viewed him as a key power broker in the upcoming runoff between Yeltsin and Communist rival Gennady Zyuganov.

Grachev

The moves were announced in a joint appearance by Yeltsin and Lebed Tuesday morning at the Kremlin.

Shortly after being named the head of the Russian National Security Council, a smiling Lebed shook hands with Yeltsin and publicly endorsed the incumbent. The deal, Lebed said, "would serve not only as the unification of politicians, but of the forces serving them."

Lebed will also act as the president's national security adviser, should Yeltsin win the runoff.

"Eleven million voters believed I could guarantee the security of citizens. I am an officer and must be worthy of their trust," Lebed said.

By naming Lebed to the posts, Yeltsin stands to gain a significant boost in the runoff. Lebed said he expects 80 percent of his supporters to vote for Yeltsin.

The appointment allows Lebed the chance to move forward on two of his key campaign platforms -- reforming the army and cracking down on crime.

The job heading the Security Council is considered one of the most powerful positions in the Russian government. As the president's security adviser, the tough-talking retired general will have even more authority.

In another development, Yeltsin told CNN he plans to strike a deal with economist Grigory Yavlinsky, who finished fourth in the election.

Grachev's ouster

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The firing of Grachev appeared to be a major concession to Lebed, who had urged for Grachev's ouster.

Grachev, a Yeltsin loyalist, has been repeatedly criticized for his handling of Russian military affairs, especially the 18-month war in Chechnya. More than 30,000 people have been killed in the breakaway region since December 1994.

Grachev was replaced by Gen. Mikhail Kolesnikov, the army chief of staff, who will be acting defense minister.

Yeltsin said he informed Grachev of the changes Monday. Grachev reportedly refused to stay on under Lebed, once his subordinate.

Lebed has called the Russian effort to crush the Chechen rebellion "an irresponsible experiment." He said Russian troops should pull out from the region and then impose an internationally supervised referendum on the Chechens.

Lebed has also advocated giving the Chechens the opportunity to vote on whether they will remain a part of Russia. If they choose to leave, all aid from Moscow should be cut off at the borders, Lebed has said in the past.

Runoff date

The exact date of the runoff between Yeltsin and Zyuganov remains uncertain. Election officials have suggested holding the runoff on Sunday, June 30. Yeltsin, however, has proposed that the election be held July 3 and has asked the Russian Duma, or parliament, to make that day a national holiday.

The Duma, dominated by Communists and ultra-nationalists, are not expected to comply with the president's proposal. Another date being considered by the Central Electoral Commission is July 7.

The runoff is necessary because no single candidate in Sunday's election received more than 50 percent of the vote.

Meanwhile, President Clinton, in a 10-minute telephone call with Yeltsin, congratulated the Russian leader on the conduct of his nation's first round of elections last Sunday.

But the White House said Clinton would not contact Yeltsin's remaining rival, Communist leader Genaddy Zyuganov, whom the United States considers a threat to Russia's embrace of democracy and free market economics.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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