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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Moment Of Truth For Yeltsin

Once again, President Boris Yeltsin is inside the gates of the Central Clinical Hospital and the rest of us are outside wondering just how sick he is. It is hard to shake a strong sense of d?j? vu with its feeling of foreboding.

For a year now Yeltsin has been absent from active leadership of the country, either due to ill health or to the presidential election campaign last spring. It is longer still since he mysteriously began regularly disappearing from work. Is former security chief Alexander Lebed right when he calls Yeltsin an "old, sick man" incapable of running the country?

Certainly, Russia needs and deserves a vigorous leader. All countries do, but Russia even more so because of the concentrated nature of power in the new state Yeltsin has built. If it becomes clear that the president, who turns 66 on Feb. 1, will not recover fully, he should resign.

But judging when that moment has arrived is no easy call. Most heart bypass patients recover well and are able to carry out full and stressful lives. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin offers a good example of that.

If the Kremlin and its doctors are being frank with their description of Yeltsin's pneumonia, then this is simply a hiccup -- far from rare -- on the road to recovery. One can only hope so. Russia needs political stability as much as it needs strong leadership

But past experience suggests that the Kremlin, while infinitely more open about the president's health than in Soviet times, is not to be trusted on the subject. Yeltsin's spokesmen may or may not be telling all. Certainly, this latest hospitalization is a crushing blow to the image of a battle-ready, recharged president that has been touted since Yeltsin returned to work Dec. 23.

It is possible that in order to recover fully, Yeltsin cannot afford to undergo the kind of stress and working day required of an active president. Lebed and Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov have been saying as much for some time for purely self-serving reasons, but that does not necessarily make them wrong.

The prospect of another round of elections -- or worse, the infighting that might arise in trying to prevent them from taking place -- is hardly attractive. One has to hope that, this time, the Kremlin is being straight about Yeltsin's illness. If not, elections are the only solution.

Russia has no institution to decide whether the president is healthy enough to rule. Neither have most countries, including the presidential republics of the United States and France. But if Yeltsin is too frail to govern, he owes it to the electorate and himself to step down. Neither can want the humiliation of another Brezhnev.