Yeltsin ally tries to quell ill-health rumor

March 20, 1994|By New York Times News Service

MOSCOW -- Confronted with a new spate of rumors about President Boris N. Yeltsin's health, his chief of staff went on television tonight to rebuke the political opposition, saying it was fomenting tensions during Mr. Yeltsin's working holiday on the Black Sea.

"The opposition's leaders try to push society to a breakdown, spreading rumors stating that the President's health has allegedly worsened or that a coup is being prepared," Sergei Filatov, Mr. Yeltsin's chief of staff, said in an interview on the main nightly news program.

It was the second time in less than a month that Mr. Filatov had appeared on television to fend off queries about Mr. Yeltsin.

The last time was in February, after Mr. Yeltsin postponed a scheduled speech to the parliament because of what was described as a severe cold that laid him low for more than a week.

Except for back pain linked to an old accident, there has never been official medical confirmation that Mr. Yeltsin suffers from any ailment. But in the last two years, he has periodically withdrawn from public view, fueling rumors about heavy drinking and medical problems.

Speculation about Mr. Yeltsin's health peaked again this week after he left the capital for what had been billed as a two-week holiday in Sochi, a resort on the Black Sea coast.

In the last two days, three different Russian news program mentioned the rumors, only to discount them with reports that the president had spent his time at the seaside working, meeting earlier in the week with Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, and on Friday taking a helicopter tour of the Krasnodar region, where Sochi is situated.

But a new mystery about Mr. Yeltsin's activities surfaced Saturday when the Italian newspaper La Stampa, quoting Alexander N. Yakovlev, chief of Russian broadcasting, reported that Mr. Yeltsin had left Sochi on Friday and gone to his country house outside of Moscow.

According to Guilietto Chiesa, La Stampa's Moscow correspondent, Mr. Yakovlev said in an interview on Friday evening that the president was in good health and had a schedule of meetings planned in the Kremlin for tomorrow.

The questions have underscored Mr. Yeltsin's passivity at a time when a number of critical issues have come to a head.

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