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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Stress Takes Its Toll on Both Foes

As Boris Yeltsin stumbled over words and slurred his speech before a triumphant Congress of People's Deputies on Friday, a clearly exhausted president raised mocking laughter from the hall.


But if Yeltsin was reeling from Russia's marathon political brawl, so was his chief sparring partner, parliament speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov. He told reporters he was ready to resign.


Only minutes after speaking, Yeltsin, punch drunk after more than a year of bruising power struggles, stood up and walked out of the Great Kremlin Palace for what his spokesman said was the last time.


Hardline deputies had finally won the day after nearly a year of bruising confrontations, and the toll that these clashes have taken was visible on the 62-year-old leader known for his toughness. At the best of times, Yeltsin's speech is not clipped. But he at one point became totally incomprehensible, causing a former member of the now-defunct Soviet-era parliament to cackle with delight on the balcony.


Khasbulatov, 50, did not appear at all for the opening part of the day, and when he did he left the job of controlling the 1, 033 deputies to one of his deputies, Yury Voronin.


The emotional speaker is himself in a precarious position - not least because he is an ethnic Chechen from Russia's North Caucasus region, a region not well loved among Russians. On Thursday some said that he should hand the job over altogether.


"Respected Ruslan Imramovich", said Vladimir Isakov, a leader of the numerous and hardline Russian Unity bloc. "Maybe you should consider passing on your duties as chairman to Yury Mikhailovich, as he is better at it than you are", Isakov said, referring to Voronin.


"Khasbulatov is tired of all this high politics", said his press spokesman, Konstantin Zlobin. "He is tired and at the point of resigning".


The speaker is thought unlikely to resign unless he is forced to, while the entire Yeltsin-Khasbulatov power struggle has a perennial quality that makes it tempting to dismiss some of their exchanges as hot wind. But the pressures brought to bear on the two men were evident Friday.


Both men have a history of serious illnesses that have been aggravated by stress in the past. Yeltsin has been hospitalized for heart trouble and Khasbulatov suffers from high blood pressure.


On Friday, hardline deputies were jubilant and convinced that, as deputy speaker Yury Ryabov had said earlier, the proper place for the Congress was as the highest organ of power - above the president, parliament and constitutional court.


That call was dismissed by democrats as an echo of the communist slogan "All power to the Soviets" - a plausible interpretation given that the deputies refused Wednesday to remove the Marxist slogan "Workers of the World Unite" from the constitution.


But, as Yeltsin has found to his cost, the current 1978 vintage constitution gives most powers to the Soviets, or councils. and the highest Soviet of all, the Congress, is now proving that as the only body entitled to change the constitution, it is apparently too strong an opponent for the president to challenge in a fight under the current rules.