Lebed: I'm In Charge Here

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MOSCOW: Where is Boris Yeltsin? As Russian troops ready for a massive assault on the Chechen capital, battering Grozny with a ferocious barrage of artillery and airstrikes, no one knows where the Russian President is, or whether he approved the attack. Confusion as to just who is responsible for the assault has fed speculation that military is running out of governmental control. In Chechnya, General Konstantin Pulikovsky is preparing the assualt to retake Grozny, which was captured earlier this month by a surprisingly well-organized and equipped rebel army. Security chief Alexander Lebed, who technically outranks Pulikovsky after a sweeping Yeltsin decree last week gave him broad powers, objected strenuously Wednesday to the operation and voiced doubts that Pulikovsky has the authority to launch such an assault. The radio station Echo Moscow reports that Yeltsin has been at the Moscow Cardiological Center since last Thursday attended by doctors who may decide upon heart surgery at any hour, a claim denied by the center's director. Kremlin spokesmen say that Yeltsin has left suddenly for the Lake Valdai region north of Moscow in search of a suitable vacation spot. Correspondent Yuri Zarakhovich reports from TIME's Moscow bureau that the Kremlin's story is suspect: "Have you ever heard of a head of state scouting his own travel accommodations?" For now, the truth is hidden, but Yeltsin's health is undeniably failing, making the questions all the more urgent. -->