Gen. Alexander Lebed, a regional governor in Siberia and a contender for the Russian presidency, said he had considered taking control of his local nuclear missile forces, Interfax news agency said on Friday.
In an open letter to Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko, Lebed was quoted as saying officers at one missile unit in Krasnoyarsk Territory were "hungry and angry" after five months without pay. "I've seriously thought about whether we shouldn't take the unit under the territory's jurisdiction.""The officers are hungry, the officers are very angry. After 26 years of army service, I know very well how that feels," he said. A spokesman for Lebed in Krasnoyarsk confirmed the letter had been sent.
"We, the people of Krasnoyarsk, are not yet a rich people," Lebed said. "But in exchange for the status of a nuclear territory, we will, if you like, feed the unit, becoming along with India and Pakistan a headache for the world community."
Lebed shot to prominence as a peacemaker in ethnic conflicts in Moldova and Chechnya and briefly served as President Boris Yeltsin's civilian security adviser after finishing third in the 1996 presidential election. He is seen as a strong anti-establishment contender for the next election in mid-2000.
In his letter, he called on Kiriyenko to explain his strategy for restoring the Russian economy and ending the cash shortages that, he said, have run down the country's defenses to dangerous levels.