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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Vacations, Snubbing Lebed

ZAVIDOVO, Central Russia -- President Boris Yeltsin went to ground Tuesday in an elite government vacation home in the Tver region, apparently snubbing national security chief Alexander Lebed who offered the president his long-awaited Chechnya peace plan.


Yeltsin's decision to holiday at the country estate, in which Leonid Brezhnev had once hunted bear with Fidel Castro, cast into further doubt both the president's health and his control of the latest developments in the Chechen negotiations.


Lebed has been requesting a meeting with the president since Sunday when he returned from Chechnya after signing an outline of a long-term political settlement to the conflict with Chechen separatist chief of staff Aslan Maskhadov.


Kremlin aides told Lebed that Yeltsin received the documents regarding Chechnya on Tuesday evening, but refused to confirm that a meeting between the two men was on the president's schedule, stating only the president "may soon study the plan's details."


Kremlin aides did not announce when or where a possible meeting with Lebed might take place, confirming only that Yeltsin was enjoying his second day of an extended holiday.


"The head of state has only begun his vacation," Yeltsin's spokesman Sergei Yasterzhembsky told Interfax.


Built in the early 1960s by Nikita Khrushchev and later frequently visited by Brezhnev, the Rus estate at Zavidovo lies on the banks of the Ivankovskoye water reserve, known among locals as the Moscow Sea.


Zavidovo is a scenic village with a large goat and chicken population; a thick forest surrounds the area, which lies 125 Another local, Maria Goncharova, said she was too busy tending to her small plot of potatoes and cucumbers to extend a hospitable welcome to the resting president.


"Khrushchev used to pass on this road and I'd see the cars coming and I'd wave to them," Goncharova, 60, recalled. "But if Yeltsin walked by, I'd just shut the door and keep him out."


A native of Zavidovo, she blamed the president for closing down local stores and restaurants and for failing to pay her pension, which she says was last issued to her three months ago.


"If I didn't have these potatoes I'd go hungry," she said. "I don't feel one bit better that the president is nearby."


Yeltsin's choice of place for his vacation as well as its unusual length have fueled renewed speculations that the president, 65, is seriously ill.


Time magazine said last week it had obtained a copy of a Kremlin medical advisory counselling Yeltsin to go abroad for immediate double-bypass surgery. Yeltsin aides immediately denied the existence of such a document.


Also last week, former Kremlin press secretary Pavel Voshchanov said in an article published in Komsomolskaya Pravda that the president was simultaneously suffering from a chronic infection of the middle ear, cirrhosis of the liver, kidney problems, rapidly progressing angina pectoris and a sleeping disorder due to heart problems.


But in Moscow, political observers treated with cynicism Yeltsin's repeated trips to the countryside precisely when critical political decisions had to be made.


"These are naive and childish attempts to avoid responsibility," wrote political columnist Alexander Minkin in this week's edition of Novaya Gazeta.


"At the moment the storming of Grozny [which would have cost the lives of hundreds of our soldiers] was announced, the president went shopping for a dacha in Valdai," Minkin wrote.


Yeltsin dropped from public sight for several days last week and aides explained the president's absence by stating he was in the northwest Russian region of Valdai, scouting the area for a suitable vacation spot.


"And many will remember how instead of flying to Budyonnovsk he went off to Halifax," Minkin concluded, referring to Yeltsin's decision last year to attend a Group of Seven leading industrialized nations summit meeting in Canada even though Chechen rebels had taken 1,000 Russians hostage in the village of Budyonnovsk.


Yeltsin has previously preferred to vacation in the western Moscow sanatorium of Barvikha, and this is his first visit to the Rus estate. He came here without his wife, Naina, who underwent a kidney operation Monday.