Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Better Dead Than Lebed?

Alexander Lebed may have not been the most savory morsel in the Russian political stew but he was a serious counterweight to President Putin. Now without Lebed, a man who looked to have been made of pre-cast concrete, there is no one prominent who can make a credible case for not being repressive. Don’t get me wrong, this guy had police state written all over him. But his actions often revealed a softer, more feminine side. (see photo of a jubilant Lebed). His death means one more obstacle out of the way if Putin were to fancy a stroll toward totalitarianism. Worse, he may have left behind a vacuum to be filled by someone or something even more noxious.

Of course, foul play isn’t necessarily a given in this case. I mean, the guy was traveling over Siberia in a Soviet helicopter that can best be described as 1500 moving parts yearning to live free. Nonetheless, at the time of the accident Lebed was in the midst of a dispute with a neighboring governor that appeared to be on the verge of armed conflict if you can believe Pravda. (And who can’t?).

I recall Lebed’s tour of Wall Street several years ago when he looked to be power broker in the Russian Federation. He seemed totally baffled as various Rockefellers and investment bankers fawned all over him.

That in turn reminds me of a story about a friend whose job it was at the Pentagon to shepherd former Soviet military leaders on a tour of the US. These guys had never been to America before and the Clinton Administration decided to bring them to Las Vegas. Better yet, they landed at Nellis Air Force Base where they keep the mothballed strategic bomber fleet. Their impression of the United States no doubt exceeded any Soviet indoctrination – by day, thermonuclear ready B-52s lined up wingtip to wingtip as far as the eye can see and at night glassy eyes gamblers and bare breasted women in colossal glittering casinos.

I bet they all went back home and committed themselves to building a modern capitalist society just like the one they saw in America.

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