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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Newspaper Puts Spin on Yeltsin Illness

While the Western press has speculated furiously on the subject of President Boris Yeltsin's health, the Russian media havebeen largely silent on the issue. But that changed Thursday with the publication by the weekly Argumenty i Fakty of a commentary entitled, "There Are No Healthy Presidents."


Acknowledging that the question of Yeltsin's health is a serious factor in Russian politics, the newspaper attempted to put a face-saving spin on it.


"We will recall a conventional truth: There are no absolutely healthy people," the commentators wrote. "We will venture to suggest that a majority of people in the ruling elite of any state have one or another problem with their overall physical state -- even if for natural reasons."


Yeltsin, who suffered two heart attacks last year, has been out of the public limelight since just prior to the presidential run-off election July 3. His sudden decision two weeks ago to postpone a meeting with visiting U.S. Vice President Al Gore and leave the Kremlin for a government health resort outside of Moscow was seen as another sign that something is seriously wrong with the Russian president.


The issue received fresh fuel for speculation Wednesday, when Yeltsin's chief of staff, Anatoly Chubais, said he had urged the president during a meeting to take a "full-fledged" vacation following his Aug. 9 inauguration.


Arguenty i Fakty noted that the Western press has devoted a lot of ink to speculation about Yeltsin's health, but then went on to play it down.


They gave as examples U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was crippled from polio, Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser, who suffered from arteriosclerosis, Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, who had an artificial kidney, and French President Fran?ois Mitterrand, who continued to govern for years while dying of cancer.


The authors also noted that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill both suffered strokes while in office, and that U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower had a serious heart attack the year he was re-elected to a second term in office.


Some world leaders, they added, have had "defects" greater than George Bush's fainting spell while meeting the Japanese president or the surgical scar on Lyndon Johnson's stomach.


By way of example, they pointed to Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi's alleged mafia ties or former Central African Republic Emperor Bokassa's penchant for cannibalism.


While the Argumenty i Fakty commentary seems to be, at least in part, an exercise in damage control, it is a clear acknowledgement that all is not well in the Kremlin.


This, according to analysts, may mean that some within the government and the administration are beginning to think about a post-Yeltsin era.


"I think they want to prepare Yeltsin and the Russian public for a situation in which he will be less active, and to do it in such a way so it will not undercut or irritate Yeltsin personally, but at the same time so that he should gradually make way for the new generation of leaders," said Andrei Kortunov of the Russian Science Foundation.


Other observers added that it is difficult to play down the importance of Yeltsin's deteriorating health.


"I think that the Western press is more right on this, because it is a very important issue," said Sergei Markov of the Moscow center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.


"The Russian press forgets about it because it is a constant factor. But the Russian press is also very pro-regime, and they don't want to destabilize the current regime. I think it is a continuation of the control which the Yeltsin administration exercised over the press during the election campaign," he said.