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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Returns to Kremlin Politics

President Boris Yeltsin, looking fit on his return from a Black Sea vacation, went straight into a complex round of negotiations Monday with President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan.


Yeltsin strode purposefully down the St. George Hall of the Kremlin and smiled as he greeted Nazarbayev, whose visit is designed to cement the relationship between the two post-Soviet nuclear powers.


Yeltsin, 63, whose two-week absence prompted a wave of rumors about his health, was shown on television conducting talks with extended delegations of both sides. He apparently worked through the day, signing 23 documents at a formal ceremony with Nazarbayev in early evening.


Suggestions that Yeltsin was unwell began to circulate while the president was away in the resort of Sochi. Countering the rumors, Yeltsin told reporters at Adler Airport on Sunday evening before he flew to Moscow that he had been swimming in the Black Sea.


"Can a sick person bathe in the sea when the temperature is 8 degrees?" Yeltsin asked, according to Itar-Tass.


The president was later met at Vnukovo Airport in Moscow by a group of top politicians, including his chief of staff, Sergei Filatov, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, Interior Minister Viktor Yerin, First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets and Mayor Yury Luzhkov. The last two were named as plotters in the mysterious document "Version No. 1" that caused a sensation in Moscow in Yeltsin's absence.


The document has almost universally been denounced as a forgery and Yeltsin called it a "provocation." But "Version No. 1" and the scenario it set out still sent tremors through Moscow, exposing the jittery nerves of the liberal establishment, which has been on the retreat since the disasters it suffered in last December's elections.


In an interview broadcast Monday night, Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais, the last senior member of the reformist Russia's Choice bloc in the government, stirred the broth of rumor again. He told the BBC television program "Panorama" that he had evidence of another plot to propel the ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, whose party triumphed in the elections, into power this autumn.


"It's too early to demonstrate this evidence for everybody, but for me personally there is no doubt," said Chubais in an interview recorded before "Version No. 1" was circulated. "I think that when you will see concrete evidence it will be too late. Because these forces would not like to demonstrate themselves immediately."


Chubais said that the real threat came not so much from Zhirinovsky himself as "the kind of political forces which are behind him." He reminded his interviewer that Russia was still a military superpower which "can probably destroy the world in 30 minutes."


Although Presidents Yeltsin and Nazarbayev put their names to a series of agreements, the main purpose of their talks appeared to be political on both sides.


Nazarbayev, who was returning from a trip to the United States and Britain, has entrenched his position after parliamentary elections earlier this month in which his political allies did well.


On Monday morning Yeltsin held an hour of one-on-one talks with Nazarbayev in the Kremlin and signed bilateral documents including a military pact that obliges each country to defend the other if attacked and gives Russia operational control of the nuclear weapons on Kazakh soil until they are dismantled.


But a dispute about the Baikonur cosmodrome in northern Kazakhstan was only settled late in the day.


The 7,000 square kilometer cosmodrome, the launch point for Yury Gagarin's flight into space in 1961, remains a missile testing site and the launch site for Russian spy satellites.


However thousands of employees have left the complex since the breakup of the Soviet Union and the two republics have argued over its upkeep. In 1992 military construction workers at the base rioted in protest over their wages and four people died.


The site has become an issue of pride for many Russians. Vyacheslav Marychev of Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party protested in the State Duma last Friday that Baikonur was in a desperate state and asked parliament to discuss it as soon as possible.


After several hours of talks the Russian side agreed to lease Baikonur for 20 years for $115 million a year, Itar-Tass reported, more than $30 million more than Russia had budgeted.


Another bone of contention between the two countries is the status of the 6 million Russians in Kazakhstan. Ethnic relations in the republic have mainly been very good, but tension began to surface during parliamentary elections earlier this month.


Nazarbayev has said he will not introduce dual citizenship for them. "This institution is not envisaged in many countries, including Russia," Nazar-bayev told Itar-Tass en route to Moscow. "So the question is, can Kazakhstan introduce it at the very start of the process of building its statehood and in circumstances when more than half of its citizens are not native residents?"