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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Buoyant Boris Greets Wheelchair-Bound Bill

HELSINKI, Finland -- Just a few months ago, Boris Yeltsin was flat on his back in heart surgery, the sick old man of Russia. Bill Clinton, by contrast, looked young and vigorous on the campaign trail to a second term as U.S. president.


The picture looked vastly different Thursday in Helsinki as Yeltsin, looking rosy-cheeked and fit, strolled off his new presidential jet with his wife, Naina, on his arm.


A wheelchair-bound Clinton, by contrast, was lowered to the tarmac by a hydraulic lift in Finnair Catering container number C22.


Though a red carpet awaited him, there was no band to play the national anthem. "We assume it's because he is in a wheelchair, and it would not be proper if he can't stand," said a Finnish Foreign Ministry official.


Clinton, who suffered a torn tendon in a fall last week in Florida, nonetheless grinned and waved vigorously as he prepared for his negotiations with Yeltsin over NATO's eastward expansion plans.


Yeltsin, 66, looked fitter than he has in months for what he has predicted will be his toughest U.S.-Russian summit.


Standing tall and firm, he made a brief statement in front of his newly refurbished $70 million Ilyushin-96 presidential jet, specially outfitted for medical emergencies and transporting his team of doctors.


The U.S. leader tore a tendon in his right knee last Friday at the Florida estate of Australian golf legend Greg Norman, when he tripped on some stairs. Doctors predict a full recovery.


Speaking Thursday prior to talks with Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, Clinton, seated in a chair with his leg extended, said he was managing fine despite the inconvenience. "My knee and I are getting around pretty well," he quipped to reporters.


Some officials predict that Clinton, 16 years Yeltsin's junior, might choose to use crutches during at least part of the summit to help maintain his youthful image. But Clinton has been a strong backer of Yeltsin, who faces severe criticism at home from communists and nationalists, and therefore may be happy to see his counterpart looking as fit as possible.


Special ramps to accommodate Clinton's wheelchair may be used at the site of Friday's summit talks, the Maentyniemi residence of the Finnish president, which has many staircases and no elevators.


According to Finnish press reports, Clinton has chosen to stay in a four-room suite at the Inter-Continental Hotel in central Helsinki with the rest of the U.S. delegation instead of at the American Embassy, because the hotel is better suited to accommodate a wheelchair.


Police were holding an arson suspect after a fire broke out in a Russian strip club called Little St. Petersburg in central Helsinki early Thursday.


No one was injured, and no links were apparent to either organized crime or the summit.


But at least one Russian television station reported there were suspicions the fire was linked to a mafia group in St. Petersburg, Russia's second city.


(AFP, Reuters, AP)