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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Aide Hints at Yeltsin's Tenuous Health

The issue of President Boris Yeltsin's health was at center stage Friday when a top presidential adviser was quoted as saying that Yeltsin's condition had clearly deteriorated since May, that he was suffering from a "colossal weariness" and would need approximately two more months of "quiet and rest."


"[The president feels] worse [than in May], no question. That is clear, it is obvious," Georgy Satarov told the daily newspaper Segodnya in an interview published Friday. "He is an elderly man; there is nothing you can do about it. The years take their toll."


But Yeltsin, who has continued to receive visitors and to conduct state business from a Kremlin sanatorium in Barvikha, is not suffering from a "serious illness such as the heart" which would require hospitalization, said Satarov.


Yeltsin abruptly disappeared from public view at the end of June, prompting speculation in the West that he had suffered a stroke or heart attack. He had two heart attacks last year, which kept him out of his Kremlin office for several Yeltsin to take a "full-fledged" vacation after the Aug. 9 inauguration. Argumenty i Fakty on Thursday ran a long piece on sick presidents who have, nevertheless, managed to function.


But State Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov, citing sources in the president's secretariat, told journalists Friday that Yeltsin is expected to return to work Tuesday, three days prior to inauguration, Interfax reported. Yeltsin left the Kremlin in mid-July for a government health resort at Barvikha, outside Moscow.


Satarov emphasized that the president "is in wonderful intellectual and psychological form" but that he was worn out from a grueling four-month election campaign that had him crisscrossing Russia's vast spaces in a hectic press-the-flesh tour.


"I would say that I have not for a long time seen him in such wonderful intellectual shape," said Satarov. "But it is absolutely accurate to say that he is tired. Of course, he needs to rest, to regain his strength."


The press and officialdom maintained a decorous silence on the topic of Yeltsin's health throughout the campaign, even during the period between the first and second rounds, when the president cancelled several high-profile campaign events with no explanation.


Many interpret the current spate of information as an attempt to gradually wean the public from Yeltsin-centered politics, and to make way for a new generation.


Satarov reinforced this impression by allowing himself to be led into a discussion of possible successors to the president. He said there were three obvious candidates for the role: Security Council Secretary Alexander Lebed, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov. He added, however, that others could emerge in two or three years.


Satarov denied that Lebed was the designated heir, a notion that was given some credence in June, when Yeltsin said publicly he had a successor in mind. Some observers at the time interpreted Yeltsin's remarks as a reference to Lebed, who was then being wooed to lend his support to Yeltsin's team.


Now that Lebed is on board and the elections are safely won, the gruff ex-general seems to be moving a bit out of the limelight.


On other issues, Satarov told Segodnya that Yeltsin considered the war in Chechnya his single biggest mistake. But the presidential aide, echoing recent comments by other top officials, blamed Chechen rebels for the continuing violence in the breakaway region.


He predicted the situation in Chechnya would significantly change in approximately two months, and said the Kremlin would meanwhile continue its tactic of militarily forced "coercion to peace."


Satarov warned that the oppositionist parliament would try to engineer a confrontation with the Kremlin in the fall, thereby provoking Yeltsin to dissolve the body.


"The objective economic situation is serious," he said. "If serious measures are not taken, [the situation] can worsen. They are counting on having the possibility in the fall, in October-November, to create a governmental crisis so that the president will dissolve the Duma. Then, in January-February there will be elections, and in these elections they will receive even more [seats]. This is roughly their plan."


Earlier this week, Alexander Shokhin, deputy speaker of the State Duma, said he believed the communists and their allies in the State Duma may vote against the nomination of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to continue in his post, thereby provoking a confrontation with Yeltsin. According to the constitution, if the Duma rejects a president's candidate for prime minister three times, the president can dissolve the Duma and announce new elections.


Satarov predicted that the opposition deputies will confirm Chernomyrdin, saving their ammunition for later.


Meanwhile, Yeltsin's supporters continue to gear up in preparation for this fall's regional elections, which will include 52 gubernatorial races. Vladimir Ryzhkov, a deputy chairman of the Our Home Is Russia movement, said Friday those elections will be crucial because they will determine the makeup of the Federation Council -- the parliament's upper house -- which, he said, acts as a block on "irrational" laws emanating from the opposition-dominated Duma. A strong opposition showing in the regional elections, he said, would "destabilize" the parliament.


Ryzhkov said the main pro-Yeltsin parties and movements -- including Our Home Is Russia, Vladimir Shumeiko's Reforms-New Course and Ivan Rybkin's Socialist Party of Russia -- would agree on a single list of gubernatorial candidates within the next two weeks.