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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Flies to Paris For Funeral Service

President Boris Yeltsin flew to Paris late Wednesday to attend a memorial service for former French President Fran?ois Mitterrand. It was his first trip abroad since suffering a heart attack Oct. 26.


The Russian president is scheduled to join other world leaders for the service, which takes place Thursday morning in the Cathedral of Notre Dame.


Yeltsin's jet landed at Orly airport south of Paris as the hostage crisis in southern Russia continued, causing increased criticism of the country's law enforcement bodies from leading politicians and parties.


Analysts said the Russian president's trip was partly an attempt to avoid fallout from the Kizlyar episode.


"The impression is that he really wants to distance himself from the whole affair," saying the key military and security ministers are to blame, said Andrei Kortunov, who heads the Russian Science Foundation, a private research group. "I think that is the message he is trying to sell to the general public ... and his trip to France is another indication of his mood and his position."


Kortunov said, however, that Yeltsin will not be able to avoid political damage from the current crisis.


"I think it will not work," he said. "It is not something the public will buy, especially since it is the second time ... As president of Russia and as the commander-in-chief, it is Mr. Yeltsin who should be held responsible for what is going on there. He cannot simply impose the responsibility on some of his subordinates."


Yeltsin was accompanied by First Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Viktor Ilyushin, an aide, and press spokesman Sergei Medvedev, the president's press service said. Yevgeny Primakov, the ex-foreign intelligence chief who was named foreign minister Tuesday, will not attend the Paris ceremony.


Among world leaders scheduled to attend the memorial mass are German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, British Prime Minister John Major and Prince Charles, U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and other European heads of government.


Before his departure Wednesday, Yeltsin dismissed Transport Minister Vitaly Yefimov, who has been criticized over the poor civil aviation safety record, and accepted the resignations of Privatization Minister Sergei Belayev and Nikolai Travkin, a minister without portfolio, Reuters reported. The latter two had already quit their posts to serve as deputies in the newly elected State Duma, the lower house of parliament.


The president, who was shown on television Tuesday night lambasting his "power ministers," again Wednesday strongly criticized the security lapses which allowed Chechen gunmen to take over a hospital and other buildings in Kizlyar, Dagestan on Monday. Just as the Kizlyar raid was a carbon copy of the Chechen attack on the southern Russian town of Budyonnovsk last June, Yeltsin's decision to attend the Mitterrand funeral mirrored his decision to attend the summit of leading industrialized nations in Halifax, Canada, in the middle of the Budyonnovsk crisis.


Under heavy criticism for the government's handling of the Budyonnovsk hostage-taking, Yeltsin eventually sacked the nationalities and interior ministers, as well as the head of the Federal Security Service.


Some analysts believe that Yeltsin is banking on getting dividends by appearing at the Paris funeral with other world leaders, and that he will try to claim credit if the hostage crisis is successfully resolved by the government.


"It will seem as if he is occupied with important duties in Paris, and Mr. [Prime Minister Viktor] Chernomyrdin can take over [managing the crisis]," said Viktor Kremenyuk, deputy director of the Russian Academy of Sciences' USA and Canada Institute. "If Mr. Chernomyrdin is successful, Yeltsin will simply say that the prime minister was following his instructions. If Mr. Chernomyrdin is unsuccessful, Yeltsin will say, 'I had nothing to do with it.'"


During the Budyonnovsk drama, Yeltsin was shown on television in Halifax demanding the annihilation of the Chechen gunmen at the same time that Chernomyrdin was back in Moscow negotiating with them by telephone.


Yeltsin came under an avalanche of criticism from the press and the parliament for his handling of the crisis, leading the State Duma to vote no-confidence in the government. The motion, which failed on a required second vote, was widely interpreted at the time, however, as being targeted at Yeltsin, not Chernomyrdin.