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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Raspberries and Cream, Royal Yeltsin Gaffe

President Boris Yeltsin, who has introduced orchestral conducting and oversleeping to the precious world of diplomatic protocol, left observers reeling once again during his visit to Norway this week with an unprecedented appreciation of "raspberries and cream."


At a luncheon Tuesday in Oslo at the end of his state visit to Norway, Yeltsin, 65, broke in characteristic manner with the established norms of etiquette to seize the arms of his hosts Queen Sonja and Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, dressed respectively in burgundy and white suits, and declared in triumph before the cameras, "Raspberries and cream! Get it?"


Both women laughed off the incident, according to Norwegian journalists, who said a considerably greater stir was caused the previous day when Yeltsin arrived late for an official dinner given in his honor by King Harald and Queen Sonja, leaving the royal couple waiting for him for an awkward 17 minutes.


Such incidents, while trivial in themselves, raise questions about the effectiveness of Yeltsin's efforts to highlight his profile as an international statesman ahead of the June presidential elections, in a month when he faces a punishing schedule on the world stage.


Next week he is due to visit the Ukrainian capital, Kiev -- although latest reports say the trip has been thrown into doubt by the failure of Russian and Ukrainian negotiators to reach a final agreement on the division of the Black Sea Fleet.


On April 19, Yeltsin will host a summit of the leaders of the G-7 group of industrialized countries, before setting off for visits to Kazakhstan and China.


His main opponent in the polls, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, who launched his campaign this week in the south Siberian regional center of Barnaul, has already shown his willingness to make as much political capital as possible from Yeltsin's diplomatic gaffes.


In an address to collective farm workers Wednesday, Zyuganov said he did not think it was appropriate to dwell on the personal characteristics of his rivals, before going on to do just that: "You have all seen him. How he dances and how he conducts, that's his own affair."


The remark drew a roar of laughter from his audience, clearly well aware that said "would not sleep through a visit to Ireland."


Analysts have pointed out that while foreign policy is likely to have little effect on the outcome of the election, Yeltsin's trips abroad serve to remind voters he enjoys an international status that none of his rivals can match.


But at the same time, his opponents will be looking out for any gaffes that could be held up for public ridicule.


"I don't think anyone is going to take too much notice of the odd breach in protocol," said one Western diplomat who declined to be named, adding the incidents in Oslo had passed virtually unnoticed in the Russian press. "But when you are looking at his very busy schedule, with the visits and talks ahead, keeping in mind the state of his health -- that's another matter entirely."


The issue of Yeltsin's health, coupled with the reports of his drinking, has cast a shadow over his re-election prospects since he suffered two bouts of ischemia -- a condition that affects the supply of blood to the heart -- in July and October last year.


After the second attack, which left him incapacitated for 10 weeks, his political future appeared at first to be in serious doubt. But in almost every public appearance since returning to the Kremlin just before New Year's Day, he has looked fit and robust -- as well as considerably leaner, having lost a reported 11 kilograms during his convalescence. And well before he officially declared his candidacy Feb. 16 in his home city of Yekaterinburg, it was clear he had no intention of putting his political ambitions aside.


Journalists and diplomats in Oslo this week said the president appeared in excellent spirits and good health, although he appeared tired toward the end of the day.


"The real test is going to be China: four days and a much greater distance to travel -- and with Almaty on the way," the diplomat said.


The only Moscow paper to pick up the raspberries and cream reference was the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets, which far from taking Yeltsin to task for the remark, said it could well have enhanced his election prospects.


"There can be no doubt that if Boris Nikolayevich, who has always appealed to female voters, could embrace every woman of Russia, then all the communist men put together would be unable to withstand his all-defeating male charm," wrote commentator Natalya Timakova. "But in any case, a little relaxing of his image can only help the president during a tough election campaign."