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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kremlin: No Quick Change to Basic Law

President Boris Yeltsin opposes revision of the constitution now but has left the door open to unspecified amendments at a later date, a Kremlin official said Friday.


"We all need to learn to live under the framework of the present constitution and use it to its full potential. Then, without a hurry and with a cool head, we can consider the question of amending it," said Yeltsin's spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky.


He was reporting on Yeltsin's remarks about the constitution during a meeting with his chief of staff, Anatoly Chubais, at the president's Gorky-9 country residence outside Moscow.


With Yeltsin's health a continuing issue, opposition members in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, have recently demanded that the president cede to parliament some of his duties, such as the power to appoint cabinet members.


The spokesman said Yeltsin discussed the issue with Chubais before dispatching him to Davos, Switzerland, to join the Russian delegation at the World Economic Forum, a gathering of leading businessmen, financiers and political figures.


Looking ahead to Yeltsin's meeting Sunday with French President Jacques Chirac, at which NATO enlargement plans are likely to come up, Yastrzhembsky said Russia "consistently sticks to its position" of opposing the alliance's expansion into former Warsaw Pact nations.


Earlier this week, Yeltsin indicated an interest in revising the constitution. He said he intends to discuss its "evolution" in an address to the Federation Council, parliament's upper house, later this month.


The statement, the first of its kind by Yeltsin, prompted suggestions that the man who drafted Russia's basic law is now considering ways of assuring that he can designate his own successor to the presidency.


Meanwhile, Yeltsin, by nature energetic and driven, will mark his 66th birthday Saturday with a few close relatives and friends, far away from the Kremlin and out of earshot of political rumblings about his health problems.


His prime minister, Victor Chernomyrdin, and Patriarch Alexei II will both drop by the Gorky-9 country residence to celebrate, Interfax reported, but the partying and raucous times enjoyed at birthdays past are off this year on account of illness.


Saturday's edition of the influential newspaper Izvestia made no mention of the president's birthday, an unusual omission in Russia, where birthdays of leaders traditionally get prominent attention in the media.


Out of commission with a bad heart since shortly before winning a run-off election against Communist challenger Gennady Zyuganov on July 3 and battling pneumonia this month, Yeltsin is noticeably weaker than the man who fought tooth and nail to save Russia from a coup and enact its new, democratic constitution in 1993.


That year he began the week before his birthday in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where he chaired the first meeting of leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States and successfully staked Russia's claim to the entire Soviet nuclear arsenal.


He ended the week in New Delhi, where he endeared himself to the public by grasping hands with his wife, Naina, around the city's famous 800-year-old iron pillar. He then worked to ease India's anxiety over Russia's outstanding debt to that country.


Between the two trips, he set up a summit meeting with U.S. President Bill Clinton and undertook a currency reform.


By comparison, an ailing Yeltsin this year has spent the week being shuttled twice between the Kremlin and Gorky-9, where he has been recuperating since his release from the hospital Jan. 20


Despite trying hard to prove the skeptics wrong, Yeltsin has spent only 13 days behind his Kremlin desk since being re-elected.


This reality has presidential hopefuls scrambling like never before and those in power scratching their heads over what can possibly be done to keep the status quo.


"A future 'convergence of the elite' with the president's bad health as the backdrop may lead to a crises at the top," the daily newspaper Segodnya wrote in Friday's edition.


This "elite" is perhaps united most by its mutual fear of presidential hopeful Alexander Lebed, the deposed Security Council secretary who heads most popularity polls.


Yeltsin's trial-balloon mention of constitutional "evolution" only seven months into his second four-year term could only fan the flames of ambition of contenders like Lebed and send nervous shivers down the spines of senior officials who owe their jobs to Yeltsin.