MOSCOW, JAN. 14 -- Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said today he did not give the order for the bloody army operation in Lithuania that left 14 people dead and scores wounded Sunday, but he expressed little regret over the action and indicated that he supported it.

In a brief meeting with reporters, and later in a speech to the Soviet legislature, Gorbachev said that the army chief in Lithuania ordered the attack on the republic's radio station and transmitting tower, where most of the casualties occurred, after the Lithuanian National Salvation Committee -- a shadowy, pro-Moscow political group -- appealed for army "protection."

Gorbachev said that the local commander, Maj. Gen. Vladimir Uskhochnik, acted with authorization of the Baltic Military District Command when he issued the assault order at about 2 a.m. Sunday. "I learned about it only later when they woke me up," Gorbachev said. But the Soviet leader did not criticize the attack and blamed "the struggle" in Lithuania on the Baltic republic's secessionist parliament and its "violations of the constitution" since it declared independence from Moscow last March.

Gorbachev's assertions today did nothing to diminish widespread talk here that the Soviet leader may no longer be his own master, and many legislators wondered aloud whether he had become a mere instrument of hard-liners in the military, the KGB and the Communist Party.

"To tell you frankly, I don't know who is in charge of this country anymore," said Moscow deputy mayor Sergei Stankevich. "Until now, I've been blamed by colleagues for being too pro-Gorbachev . . . but after these events and watching his performance today, I feel this is the last blow to my sympathies."

Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who has decried the army violence in Lithuania, also criticized Gorbachev sharply and suggested that he was losing his authority to "reactionaries" in the party and state-security apparatus. "If Gorbachev has even nominal power as president, we know through whom he has it," Yeltsin said.

In Lithuania, meanwhile, Soviet troops and internal security forces consolidated their hold on Vilnius, the capital, and other cities in the republic today, while a negotiated truce around the barricaded parliament building seemed to be holding.

In other restless Soviet republics, especially Lithuania's Baltic neighbors, Latvia and Estonia, officials voiced fears that the Soviet military and local pro-Moscow Communist Party forces are preparing similar army operations to reinstate what Gorbachev called "constitutional norms." Latvians have set up street barricades throughout Riga, the capital, and officials there said they expect an attack as early as Tuesday.

At the same time, Latvian legislative leaders met with Soviet Gen. Fyodor Kuzmin, who warned that they must "return to the laws of the Soviet constitution" and confiscate or register all arms from civilians and Latvian police. "All {Soviet} servicemen will defend their rights," Kuzmin said in a voice that participants at the meeting described as threatening. "They will fight for their rights."

The Latvian government responded with a declaration to the "governments of the world and the governments of the {Soviet} republics" that "reactionary circles in the Soviet Communist Party and Soviet armed forces are preparing a murderous coup d'etat and liquidation of the existing constitutional systems of the Baltic states" and a plea to world leaders "not to allow another Kuwait to happen" in the Baltics.

{The Associated Press reported from Riga early Tuesday that Soviet internal security troops had occupied a Latvian police academy in a suburb of the capital and disarmed an unknown number of cadets. A spokeswoman for the Latvian government said there were no injuries in the apparently unopposed 2 a.m. takeover.}

In the Soviet legislature, Gorbachev's performance today was by turns stern and defiant, but never regretful. He showed no sympathy for the victims of the Vilnius violence except to say, "We didn't want this to happen." At one point, while the Soviet leader was out of the chamber, a legislator called for a minute of silence for the victims, but the tribute lasted no more than 10 seconds.

While Gorbachev spoke of the "rights" and "grievances" of the Lithuanian National Salvation Committee, he revealed little knowledge of the group's membership or generation. The committee, which is said to be made up mainly of leaders of the small pro-Moscow wing of the republic's Communist Party, apparently was formed Saturday, just one day before what is now being called in the republic "Bloody Sunday."

After his speech, Gorbachev refused to answer questions from the chamber, and many legislators left furious. Yuri Boyars, a member from Latvia, declared: "That Gorbachev refuses even to answer questions means that the will of the emperor is absolute. Probably he was afraid. If you are right and your position is democratic, then all questions can be answered."

For the first time since the army crackdown began, Gorbachev spoke by phone this morning with Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis, who described the conversation as "not very calm or gentle" but as having some "constructive moments."

Landsbergis said he protested the army attack and asked that medical teams be allowed to search army occupied buildings for additional victims. Gorbachev simply expressed frustration. "We have to talk with everybody, but I saw no such desire on the part of Landsbergis," he told legislators.

"I don't see how we will make progress with such people in charge," the Soviet leader added, and he complained that since the Baltic republic declared independence 11 months ago, "Lithuania has treated us like a foreign country trying to impose its constitution on another country."

Gorbachev, Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov and Interior Minister Boris Pugo displayed a united front before the legislature, as all three blamed the democratically elected Lithuanian government for "anti-constitutional" acts, "anti-Soviet" propaganda and attempts to institute a "bourgeois dictatorship."

Their version of the weekend's events contradicted almost completely that of Western reporters on the scene who have described in great detail how the armed forces overpowered unarmed civilians at the television station and elsewhere in Vilnius. The Soviet leaders portrayed the Lithuanians as demagogues who flouted the law, and they made it seem from their descriptions as if two roughly equal forces had clashed on Sunday.

When asked by legislators why the troops should respond to "calls for help" from an unelected political group that they acknowledged knowing little about, Yazov and Pugo said it was their job to protect "all members of society."

"In other words," one legislator asked, "if I form a salvation committee in Moscow, you'll rush to my defense with your arms?"

Defending the attack order by the Vilnius army commander, Yazov said Uskhochnik "lives there and knows the situation. He made his decision in order to keep order and prevent bloodshed."

Yazov said he issued orders this morning forbidding tank crews in the city to fire their weapons and for troops to return to their barracks. He said the tanks would leave the center of Vilnius as soon as street barricades blocking their way could be removed. But last night, both troops and tanks remained in place around the television center and other occupied buildings.

Asked about possible army action in Latvia or Estonia, Gorbachev's military adviser, Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, told reporters: "If {they} fulfill the laws of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, then there will be no difficulties." Another close Gorbachev adviser, Giorgi Shakhnazarov, said: "The crux of the matter is that we consider Lithuania to be a Soviet republic, and they consider themselves to be an independent state."

Yeltsin, who signed mutual assistance agreements between the giant Russian republic he heads and the three Baltic republics Sunday night, said he thought "the Baltics could be only the first in a long line of republics" subjected to military intimidation. He said the situation had grown so threatening that he plans to speed up formation of internal police and security forces in the Russian republic to replace the Soviet KGB and was even considering creation of a separate Russian army.

Yeltsin has spoken by phone with Gorbachev several times in recent days, and he expressed despair over the Soviet leader's political course in recent months. Yeltsin said that in one conversation he asked Gorbachev why he had moved to such a hard-line position and was told, "society itself is moving to the right." Yeltsin said that "this shows {Gorbachev} is out of touch, because society has become more politicized, in favor of democrats. . . . It seems that the leadership is under the impression that the democratic path is too hard, and they have decided to turn to an iron hand."