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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

President Stable, But Foes Attack

President Boris Yeltsin's heart function remains stable and a quick recovery is expected, the Kremlin said Thursday, but the president's political rivals seized the opportunity to declare him unfit to govern.


As Yeltsin remained hospitalized with pneumonia, there was some confusion between his heart surgeon and the Kremlin as to what form of the disease he had contracted, bacterial or viral. But to the president's rivals these were small details.


Presidential hopeful Alexander Lebed, who was purged from Yeltsin's Kremlin team last October, told reporters Russia was "rudderless" with Yeltsin at the helm.


"The president is very ill. It is a difficult age, he's had a difficult operation, a not entirely healthy lifestyle for the past 40 years. It does not leave much hope," Lebed said. "The question of the president's departure over his health is on the agenda."


On Wednesday night, just hours after Yeltsin was hospitalized, Lebed had called the president an "old, sick man" incapable of governing.


Another Yeltsin adversary, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, has so far kept his distance. But outspoken Communist State Duma member Viktor Ilyukhin told the Ekho Moskvy radio: "There are no grounds to pretend [Yeltsin] effectively governs the country."


Nor could Yeltsin find a morale boost from the democrats.


"Yeltsin will remain the president for four years," Yabloko leader Gregory Yavlinsky told Interfax. "However, I think this will be wasted time for Russia." "Treatment of the pneumonia is being carried out with modern antibiotics and with general therapy," said a brief Kremlin statement issued Thursday afternoon. Yeltsin's condition was described as "satisfactory" and his morning temperature normal.


An evening examination "found no negative changes in the president's condition," Reuters quoted a Kremlin spokesman as saying.


However, the president's heart surgeon, Renat Akchurin, told reporters the president has a "viral infection," an illness that cannot be successfully treated with antibiotics.


Akchurin, the celebrated Russian cardiologist, blamed the president's illness on the flu bug and dismissed any links between Yeltsin's recovery and his present condition. He said Yeltsin's pneumonia was detected in time for treatment.


"If left untreated, pneumonia would affect the heart condition of any patient, but in this case everything was done in time," Akchurin said in remarks televised on Russian news broadcasts.


But Yeltsin's heart surgeon said a "severe catarrh," or swelling, has been observed, and he repeatedly contradicted Kremlin statements that Yeltsin's pneumonia was of the light, bacterial variety.


Doctors abroad continued Thursday to question whether the Kremlin might not be glossing over the president's condition.


"It seems likely that what he's got is a mixture of a chest infection and heart failure," Professor Brian Pentecost, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, told Reuters. Referring to television footage of Yeltsin's recent meeting with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Pentecost added, "He really looked a very sick man."


Russian television reported Thursday that Yeltsin remained in control of Russia's vast nuclear arsenal with the "nuclear suitcase" at his bedside. But questions remained over who was in charge of politics in Moscow.


As members of both the liberal and nationalist opposition again lashed out at Yeltsin's ability to run the country from inside a hospital, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin embarked on a scheduled week-long vacation in a Moscow-area resort, leaving First Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Bolshakov in temporarily command of the capital.


Bolshakov chaired a government hearing on problems concerning the atomic energy industry.


"The president is ill. The premier is on vacation. The country is on its own," read the front page headline of Friday's Izvestia.


Until last weekend, when he came down with what was termed a "heavy cold," Yeltsin seemed on a steady path to recovery from a Nov. 5 quintuple bypass. Since his celebrated Dec. 23 return to the Kremlin, the president received two foreign dignitaries and chaired a slate of Cabinet sessions intended to tackle the laundry list of problems that gripped Russia in his six-month absence from Moscow.


On Thursday, the president's reported political activity was limited to a 15-minute phone conversation with Chernomyrdin, in which "affairs of the state" were discussed, the Kremlin said.


Yeltsin was joined at the suburban Moscow hospital by Finance Minister Alexander Livshits, who was diagnosed with the flu. With weeks of frigid weather, some 64,000 cases of the flu were registered in Moscow since the new year.


U.S. cardiologist Michael DeBakey, who on Wednesday said Yeltsin should be released from the hospital in seven to 10 days, told CNN on Thursday that X-rays showed an inflammation of the president's left lung.


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1949-1955 -- Yeltsin plays volleyball for several hours a day and studies at night. The stress lands him in the hospital, but he ignores doctors' warnings and discharges himself. "The risk was colossal, and I could have ruined my heart forever," he writes in his autobiography.


November 1987 -- Yeltsin is hospitalized for heart pains and nervous exhaustion after his dismissal as head of the Moscow Communist Party organization.


August 1991 -- On the eve of the failed coup against Mikhail Gorbachev, Yeltsin is "untransportable" from Almaty. Speculation attributes that to drunkenness, but the cause is uncertain.


October 1992 -- Yeltsin takes two weeks' rest after suffering what his aides call minor heart trouble.


February 1992 -- Yeltsin tells French television: "I have never had any heart trouble. Every day I have a cold shower. I am in very good shape."


September 1993 -- Yeltsin summons a Spanish surgeon to Moscow to treat his back problem, caused by a rough helicopter landing in 1990.


September 1994 -- En route from the United States to Moscow, Yeltsin keeps Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds waiting on the tarmac at Shannon airport when he "sleeps through" a scheduled meeting.


December 1994 -- On the eve of the Russian attack on the Chechen capital, Yeltsin is admitted to the hospital, ostensibly for minor nasal surgery. He is discharged 10 days later.


July 1995 -- Yeltsin is rushed to the Kremlin hospital with what doctors call "acute heart problems." The diagnosis is later given as ischemia, a condition which restricts blood to the heart. Yeltsin's convalescence lasts for a month. One week later, Yeltsin says he had a "heart attack."


October 1995 -- Yeltsin is again hospitalized for "ischemia." While his aides say the president is feeling well, his wife, Naina, says Yeltsin will have to have proper treatment "sometime."


February 1996 -- In spite of a sore throat, Yeltsin looks rejuvenated as he launches his re-election campaign. He dances and plays sports, showing almost no sign of tiredness.


June 1996 -- Yeltsin wins the first round of the presidential elections, then drops out of view. When he cancels a television appearance and a trip to Tula, aides blame a sore throat. Three months later, surgeon Renat Achkurin says in an interview that Yeltsin suffered a heart attack between rounds of voting.


July 1996 -- Yeltsin cancels a meeting with U.S. Vice President Al Gore. When he emerges to meet Gore a day later, Yeltsin appears pale and stiff.


August 1996 -- Yeltsin moves to his country residence after an aide says he is suffering from "colossal weariness" and needs two months of rest. He is barely coherent at his inauguration ceremony. Political rivals say Yeltsin is unable to carry out duties and should step down.


Sept. 5, 1996 -- Yeltsin says in television interview that he is to have a heart operation at end of the month.


Nov. 5, 1996 -- After several postponements, the seven-hour operation to install five bypasses around Yeltsin's heart goes ahead. Surgeons hail it as "a complete success" and predict a full recovery.


Dec. 23 1996 -- Yeltsin returns to work at Kremlin and declares himself "ready for battle."


Jan. 6, 1997 -- Yeltsin takes to his bed and postpones a meeting of the Defense Council. His spokesman says he has caught a cold.


Jan. 8, 1997 -- Yeltsin is transferred to the Central Clinical Hospital, suffering from "the first signs of pneumonia."


(MT, Reuters)