Yeltsin abruptly skips meeting with Gore Kremlin leader heads for a sanitarium, may see Gore today


MOSCOW -- President Boris N. Yeltsin yesterday heightened alarm about his health and gave new impetus to a power struggle in the Kremlin when he abruptly left Moscow for a sanitarium.

His sudden departure for what an aide described as a two-week vacation stunned an American delegation headed by Vice President Al Gore, whose meeting with Yeltsin was canceled at the last minute. The Americans had hoped to use the meeting to underscore support for the Russian president and assess his physical stamina following a grueling re-election campaign.

Yeltsin, who is 65 and has a history of heart disease, has not appeared in public for nearly three weeks, except in taped television addresses and brief, carefully staged photo opportunities.

Before leaving the Kremlin, Yeltsin injected a new element into the power struggle there by naming Anatoly Chubais, a free-market advocate, as his new chief of staff. Just six months ago, Chubais was forced out of office by an embattled Yeltsin, who sought to turn the reformer into a scapegoat for alleged favoritism and insider dealing that grew out of the program to privatize state-owned industries. But throwing his support behind Yeltsin, Chubais helped mastermind the president's successful election campaign.

Chubais' appointment as a replacement for the hawkish Nikolai Yegorov will strengthen the role of economic reformers within the government at the expense of hardliners.

It appeared to leave three strong, ambitious men jockeying for position as Yeltsin's energy is in doubt: Chubais; Viktor Chernomyrdin, the resilient and cautious prime minister; and Alexander Lebed, the erstwhile general and presidential candidate enlisted as Yeltsin's national security adviser.

Gore was preparing to leave for the Kremlin when he received the news that Yeltsin was leaving for the Barvikha sanitarium outside Moscow, the same sanitarium the president has gone to twice before to recover from heart ailments.

The U.S. Embassy frantically notified reporters that Gore's midday news conference had been postponed because of "scheduling problems," while stoic U.S. officials insisted that the two leaders would meet today at Yeltsin's retreat.

But even as Yeltsin's most loyal lieutenants sought to put the best face on the situation, they acknowledged that the campaign had taken a heavy toll on the president.

"He is really very tired, and he just needs a good, proper holiday," said Sergei Medvedev, Yeltsin's spokesman. "I see no serious grounds for these panicky statements that something has happened again."

Yeltsin has a long history of recurring illness, evidently aggravated by an appetite for vodka, that has sometimes led to periods of strange behavior or disappearance from public view.

In September 1994, Yeltsin created a stir when he failed to emerge from his plane during a scheduled meeting at Shannon Airport with Ireland's prime minister.

More recently, Yeltsin dropped out of sight during the final days leading up to the July 3 presidential run-off election and has barely been visible since, his major appearances being recorded televised addresses.

Pub Date: 7/16/96

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