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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Can't Both Rule And Recover

The Kremlin doctors say there has been "no breakthrough" in President Boris Yeltsin's condition, that they cannot be sure exactly how much longer he will stay in the hospital and that he needs three weeks to recuperate. The president is seriously ill.


With hindsight, a few other things are also clear. It was reckless of the president, his doctors or his aides to load his work schedule so heavily and so quickly. Without the cheerleading about how fast Yeltsin would recover, nobody would have objected to him taking a few weeks more for recuperation.


Also reckless -- and this without hindsight -- is Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's demonstrative gesture of going on holiday even though the president is flat on his back and wheezing with pneumonia in the Central Clinical Hospital. As a gesture of faith that all is well with the president, Chernomyrdin's holidays during Yeltsin's illnesses have become almost routine. If this is a gesture, it is a grave mistake.


For the first time since last year's presidential election campaign, the country's print media have become sufficiently concerned about Yeltsin's incapacity that important newspapers criticize the administration on their front pages. Television remains muzzled, but Russia's print journalists are worried the country has been left to drift dangerously long. So they should be.


Yeltsin should hand over temporary control of the country to Chernomyrdin and concentrate on his recovery. He is not superhuman after all: As a mere mortal, he cannot run Russia and recover from quintuple heart-bypass surgery at the same time.


Perhaps it will take Yeltsin another three weeks to recover fully, perhaps six, perhaps two months. If so he should take the time and disappear, leaving the country in the hands of Chernomyrdin, who gives every sign of being a faithful lieutenant. Later, Yeltsin can take charge again.


But he should use this time, with his family, to reach down deep and decide whether he is physically able to bear the strains of ruling Russia any longer. For if there is one thing Yeltsin and his doctors can be sure of, it is that the presidency of Russia will be as stressful in 1997 as it has been before.


Yeltsin will, in the coming months, have to grapple with the usual power struggles, with the non-payments crisis, crime, NATO expansion and Chechnya's dash for independence -- to name only the predictable crises.


This is not a call for Yeltsin's resignation. The president's rivals have cornered that market. It is, however, a plea that the administration -- including Yeltsin -- care for the health of the president and the leadership of the country first, and not sacrifice these on the altar of public relations.