Yeltsin illness draws yawns in Moscow Medical treatment limits Russian leader's activity in key campaign period

October 28, 1995|By Clara Germani | Clara Germani,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW -- President Boris N. Yeltsin will be in the hospital for at least another week and under closer medical care for the next month -- a time of intense political maneuvering in Russia and expected important international developments, especially in Bosnia.

The Russian leader was hospitalized Thursday after his second apparent heart attack in four months.

Kremlin officials announced yesterday the recuperation period that will guarantee that Mr. Yeltsin will be out of commission politically during the hottest part of the campaign season leading up to the parliamentary elections Dec. 17.

After tests yesterday, doctors found that Mr. Yeltsin was suffering from an "unstable blood supply to the heart," said Sergei Medvedev, the president's press secretary.

He said there had been no disruption of the "pumping functions of the heart" and the 64-year-old leader had never lost consciousness after his heart pain sent him to the hospital Thursday afternoon.

Mr. Medvedev added that medical therapy may require the president to remain in a rehabilitation center during the next month.

"He is OK, he is OK, he is OK," said Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, who would be next in line of succession if Mr. Yeltsin were incapacitated.

A summit Mr. Yeltsin was to hold Tuesday with the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia was postponed, Kremlin officials said yesterday. This means that Russia might not have such a high profile in the Bosnian peace talks.

Right-wing nationalist parties, which show stronger poll ratings than Mr. Yeltsin's supporters, hit popular chords in their criticism of the prestige Moscow has lost in Mr. Yeltsin's dismantling of the former Soviet Union.

President Yeltsin's popularity has dropped precipitously since his heroic days fighting hard-line coups in 1991 and in 1993. But the stability a strong presidency offers to the coming legislative elections makes Mr. Yeltsin's health unusually significant. He is basically the sole guarantor of the infant democracy's untested mechanisms for transfer of power.

So the Russian capital's political elite were reeling with the implications of his ailment. Not only could a weak president be toppled if undemocratic forces take it in their heads to do so, but his ill health can shift the balance of the entire political scene.

It could affect his undeclared -- but until now, probable -- candidacy for a second five-year term next June, and it could affect whom Russians cast their votes for in the December parliamentary elections.

Because the situation is so delicate, "there is very little information being offered," said Lilia Shevtsova, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center. The Kremlin has acted as if there were no heart problem and the media have followed suit, she said.

"The average person is absolutely not interested at all. They are tired and disgusted -- just look at [Mr. Yeltsin's] political rating," she said. The president's popularity is below 10 percent because of the economic turmoil of market reforms.

Strangely enough, average Russians -- and there are 150 million of them -- did seem oblivious yesterday not just to the political intrigue but to the president himself.

Of a dozen people interviewed on Moscow streets yesterday, eight did not know of Mr. Yeltsin's latest trip to the hospital; two had vague word-of-mouth knowledge of it, and two others had seen it reported on television.

Two construction workers waiting all day among the news vendors at Kievsky train station said they'd heard nothing.

"It's not strange that we haven't heard. We aren't interested because we're more worried about where we'll live and what we'll eat. I'm not worried about Yeltsin; I'm worried about politics [as a whole] in this country," said Mikhail Alexeev, 40, a construction worker from Briansk.

One woman whisking along a Moscow street had no sympathy at all for Mr. Yeltsin, the reformer who brought this country market economics after the breakup of the Communist Soviet Union.

"He dismantled the whole country. So why should I care about him?"

And on the outskirts of Moscow, on the birch-forested grounds of the Central Clinical Hospital, workers said yesterday that except for tight security, there were no signs of anything unusual at the hospital where Mr. Yeltsin is staying.

"There's nothing unusual for Russia in this. The tradition is not to care. It's not like the U.S., where if Clinton is in the hospital all the newspapers and television constantly report it, and people understand it is very important for the state," said Vladimir Andreenkov, director of the Institute for Comparative Social Research, a polling firm. "People here don't understand the connection of what really can happen if something happened to the leader."

"People basically don't care because we're used to having leaders in the hospital," observed Andrei Richter, research coordinator at the Russian-American Press and Information Center.

He said the last years of the Soviet Union were full of the numbing lies and omissions about the constant illnesses and hospitalizations of Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov and Constantine Chernenko.

"It was more exciting then because you couldn't see it in the press, it was a forbidden topic. Now it's less exciting information because you can read it in the press," he said.

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