Chechen Roulette

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MOSCOW: With Chechen rebels firmly entrenched in downtown Grozny, on the verge of handing the Russian army a humiliating defeat, a peace deal is beginning to look more and more appealing to the Russian government. But after some 20 months of war have produced numerous false starts towards peace, the job of actually negotiating Russia's way out of an increasingly thorny situation is not an easy one. The latest to try his hand: Newly named Russian special envoy to Chechnya Alexander Lebed. After returning from Chechnya on Monday, the former-paratroop general condemned the Russian army's conduct of the war and announced he had a concrete plan to end the fighting, if the government would only concentrate enough power in his hands. Lebed wants control of all army units in the Chechnya, and the authority to appoint federal officials up to the level of deputy minister. But is Lebed's aim only to end the war in Chechnya or to also consolidate his power base within the Kremlin? Lebed, who came into Yeltsin's circle only a few months ago after finishing third in the first round of Russian elections, has already made enemies in the Yeltsin camp, most notably Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin who resents Lebed's continuing attempts at self promotion. Although Yeltsin hasn't yet given Lebed the go-ahead, he may do so in order to give him a certain amount of rope, possibly in the hope that the tough-talking ex-soldier will hang himself. "If Lebed makes peace in Chechnya, Yeltsin wins," says TIME's Andrew Keith. "If Lebed doesn't make peace in Chechnya, Yeltsin can hold him accountable and get rid of him." -->