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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chirac: Yeltsin Is Energetic

President Boris Yeltsin retreated to his country residence Monday and cut his schedule for the week to just one meeting, but he also gained a ringing endorsement of his capacities and recovery this past weekend from French President Jacques Chirac.

Yeltsin's public appearance Sunday with Chirac was his first on the world stage since he was hospitalized with double pneumonia Jan. 8. A Kremlin spokesman said Monday the president's work schedule this week will be limited to a Tuesday meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.

That meeting will take place not at the Kremlin, but at Yeltsin's Gorky-9 country residence, the president's adopted home since he was released from the hospital Jan. 20.

Yeltsin and close aides will spend the week polishing drafts of a state-of-the-nation speech he is to make on a still-undisclosed date before Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, said spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky.

Sunday, braving a minus 15 Celsius chill -- without a hat, but wrapped in a heavy coat and a burgundy scarf -- Yeltsin greeted Chirac on the steps of Novo Ogaryova, an ornate guest house situated 20 kilometers west of Moscow.

Smiling hesitantly but appearing alert, a pale Yeltsin cautiously led his guest into a conference room, where television cameras captured the two leaders exchanging a few phrases as they settled themselves into their armchairs.

"We are not only two European leaders but two friends, partners who are linked in a strategic and privileged relationship," Yeltsin, carefully measuring each word, told his French counterpart.

The lightly edited footage was the most candid television showing of Yeltsin since the early days of January, when the president made a triumphant return to the Kremlin having completed convalescence from a Nov. 5 quintuple bypass operation.

But Yeltsin was soon stricken with pneumonia, causing concern among world leaders that Russia's president has grown too frail to properly attend to affairs of state.

Chirac was the first foreign dignitary to meet Yeltsin face to face since the pneumonia illness, and the French president told anxious reporters that he was impressed with what he saw.

"I found he has very clear vision on all the world issues we discussed. He energetically defended Russia's interests, which is entirely understandable," Chirac said of the three hour summit before boarding the plane for Paris Sunday evening.

"I was impressed by his recovery," Chirac added testily as reporters repeatedly grilled the French president on Yeltsin's health rather than NATO negotiations -- the summit's official purpose.

Sunday's footage showed an aged and slimmed-down Yeltsin. While observers saw the three-hour meeting as a positive sign that Yeltsin is on the mend, several questions remain unanswered.

The first question is when Yeltsin will be able to address parliament with his long-awaited state of the nation address, which -- as he hinted last week -- may touch on consitutional reforms.

Another question mark hangs over the date and location of a summit with U.S. President Bill Clinton, tentatively scheduled for March. Chernomyrdin will go to Washington to negotiate the details with U.S. Vice President Al Gore on Thursday.

The Kremlin also has not yet rescheduled a summit of Commonwealth of Independent States leaders, the loose grouping of 12 former Soviet states that has twice this year failed to meet because of Yeltsin's hospitalization.

Yeltsin hosted Chirac one day after quietly celebrating his 66th birthday Saturday. The occasion was marked in private with his family, and no pictures of the event were released to the public.

Chernomyrdin gave the president a "huge bouquet and a personal gift" when he rushed to Gorky-9 after cutting short a trip to the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland especially for the occasion. He reportedly was invited to lunch along with Yeltsin's chief of staff, Anatoly Chubais.

Mayor Yury Luzhkov also visited Yeltsin, but the Moscow mayor was less encouraging than Chirac when speaking about Yeltsin's health to the press after the visit.

"The president looked like anyone who had undergone a complicated heart operation and pneumonia, who is not fully fit," Luzhkov, widely seen as a presidential contender, was quoted by Interfax as saying.

On Saturday, ORT Public Television broadcast a pre-recorded interview with Yeltsin's wife, Naina, and his younger daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko. Yeltsin is "feeling better and ... working several hours a day," his wife said.

"The most important thing is that he is using his brain a lot, and he may be using it now a lot more than before because he has a lot more time to concentrate," Dyachenko said.

The two also revealed what gift they had in mind for the president. "We decided to buy him a jacket," Dyachenko said.

To commemorate the occasion, ORT television also repeatedly aired a flattering, infomercial-style clip tracking Yeltsin's rise to power and his accomplishment as president.

But the Moscow press was more reserved. Most of the newspapers that did devote space to Yeltsin's birthday offered bittersweet congratulations.

"Our president behaves naturally, and a country that has so long ago lost its sense of self-appreciation needs a president just like that," Kommersant Daily wrote Saturday. "There are smarter men, and more educated, and more spirited -- but those things are not important in our present situation."