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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tired Yeltsin Cancels Tula Trip

President Boris Yeltsin cancelled a scheduled campaign trip Thursday amid indications he has abandoned the robust, high-profile electioneering tactics that gave him a narrow lead over Communist Party rival Gennady Zyuganov in the first round of voting June 16.


A presidential spokesman said the cancellation of the visit to Tula region, south of Moscow, was "due to a change in the president's program," but declined to give any explanation. Yeltsin has remained closeted with aides in Moscow since returning Sunday from trips to Kaliningrad and the former Soviet republic of Belarus, confining himself to brief television appearances and signed statements.


His low-key role has left the field clear for newly appointed aide General Alexander Lebed, who was installed last week as Secretary of the Security Council and presidential national security adviser in the wake of his strong third place in the first round, to dominate the political stage with grandiose plans for a security shake-up and crackdown on crime and corruption.


But while analysts say the Yeltsin camp is likely to be giving Lebed maximum publicity in order to attract as many as possible of his 11 million-strong electorate, any prolonged absence by the president from the public eye is certain to renew speculation about his health.


In July and October last year, Yeltsin, who turned 65 on Feb. 1, suffered two bouts of ischemia, a condition that affects the supply of blood to the heart. On the second occasion, he remained in hospital for 10 weeks before returning to work at the Kremlin, raising serious doubts about his ability to run an effective presidential campaign.


But Yeltsin appeared to confound his critics. Looking robust, alert and considerably slimmer, he threw himself into a vigorous campaign that included a punishing schedule of provincial tours, speeches and television interviews.


And at least until the first round, all the evidence suggested that he was thriving, forcing his way through crowds, taking on hostile questioners and even joining in the dancing at rock concerts -- in short, recreating the image of the popular president who mounted a tank in front of the White House to defend Russia's democracy against the plotters in the failed coup of August 1991.


But the signs of strain were clearly showing in Kaliningrad region last weekend. Shown on television meeting residents and sailors in the port of Baltiisk, Yeltsin looked tired and pale, with the same puffiness about his face that had characterized his looks during his spell of bad health last year.


The shake-up at the Kremlin last week, which saw the firing of Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, followed swiftly by presidential chief bodyguard Alexander Korzhakov, Federal Security Service chief Mikhail Barsukov and First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets, are also likely to have taken their toll on Yeltsin's reserves of energy.


On Thursday, there was no television footage of Yeltsin in any of the evening news programs, but he was reported to have carried out a full day's engagements. These included meeting with the head of his new Political Consultative Council, former Duma speaker Ivan Rybkin, issuing an appeal to Communist voters not to vote against "a new life" and sending a message to the armed forces suggesting that he would delay appointing a full time replacement for Grachev at the Defense Ministry until after the second-round vote July 3.