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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Weakened Yeltsin Cancels EU Trip




President Boris Yeltsin, who had trouble simply standing up during his last foreign trip, on Monday canceled a one-day visit to Vienna due to what the Kremlin said was his weakened condition after a bout of bronchitis.


The cancellation was more confirmation of Yeltsin's new role as a part-time president languishing on the sidelines of politics while others campaign to succeed him.


Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov f now seen by many as Russia's paramount leader f will go to the European Union meeting Tuesday in Yeltsin's place, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Yakushkin was quoted as saying by Interfax.


Yakushkin said a doctor's committee convened to examine Yeltsin before his trip recommended he stay home. The recent bronchitis, which forced Yeltsin to cut short a trip to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan two weeks ago, had left Yeltsin in an "asthenic condition" marked by "unsteady blood pressure and increased tiredness," he said.


The term "asthenic condition" simply indicates a state of weakness, according to reference books.


Yeltsin made things worse by disobeying doctors' orders not to work, Yakushkin said.


Oleg Sysuyev, Yeltsin's first deputy chief of staff, said the president in the next day or two would likely go on vacation for two weeks somewhere in the Moscow region.


Yeltsin, who underwent heart bypass surgery in November 1996 and has had frequent time off for illness since then, has already been on vacation for 47 days in 1998, by Interfax's count.


Yeltsin's heath was "not so bad that he cannot fulfill his constitutional duties," Sysuyev said on NTV television.


But Sysuyev seemed to acknowledge Yeltsin's reduced political role, saying it was not proper for the president to review all decisions of the Cabinet. "The president will not f and it seems correctly f replace the activity of the government, won't run everything, including daily matters of economics" Sysuyev said. "We have arrived at a time of joint responsibility for the everyday condition of the economy."


Yeltsin remained, however, the ultimate guarantor of Russia's territorial integrity and civil rights, Sysuyev said.


Yakushkin said Primakov would carry out the full trip agenda, which is expected to include talks with EU officials on Russia's economic crisis and the situation in Kosovo as well as with Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima.


Yeltsin's role in politics has been sharply diminished due to his doubtful health and the political consequences of the Aug. 17 ruble devaluation. Primakov, a widely respected senior figure, has taken over responsibility for Cabinet appointments and economic policy-making f though Yeltsin retains enormous constitutional powers on paper.


Likely presidential candidates, such as Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and Krasnoyarsk region Governor Alexander Lebed, are already gearing up their campaigns for 2000 f or earlier. If Yeltsin dies or quits, under the constitution Primakov would serve as acting president for three months until new elections.


Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, who lost to Yeltsin in the 1996 election, said Yeltsin should voluntarily step down.


"Yeltsin's state of health has been quite obvious for a long time," Zyuganov was quoted as saying by Interfax. "He is tormenting himself, the country, his relatives. He must resign, but he does not have the will or the scruples to do that."


Russian press reports have quoted Kremlin officials as saying that they would restrict Yeltsin's foreign trips in the wake of his performance in Central Asia, where he staggered while trying to stand at attention and appeared disoriented during news conferences.


He has made gaffes on other foreign trips, particularly a December 1997 appearance in Stockholm, Sweden, where he mixed up Finland and Sweden and erroneously implied Germany and Japan had nuclear weapons.


This week's trip to Austria already had been cut back from two days to one, and Yeltsin earlier had backed out of a trip to Malaysia in November, deciding to send Primakov in his place.


The latest cancellation was announced clumsily, with the Kremlin making the announcement Monday only after reports by Western wire services citing Austrian officials.


Political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky said the reason for the last-minute cancellation might not be Yeltsin's condition but back-room Kremlin disputes over whether he should travel at all.


"This is less connected with any worsening of his health, because it's become clear to any reasonable person that his condition is so poor as to not permit foreign trips," said Piontkovsky, head of the Center for Strategic Studies. "Today's events have a political, not a medical character."


Piontkovsky said Yeltsin's chief of staff Valentin Yumashev has pushed for a "soft resignation" model in which Yeltsin does not yield to opposition demands that he quit, but stays out of day-to-day politics. The only person in a position to oppose Yumashev would be Yeltsin's daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, who serves as image adviser.


Political analyst Yury Korgunyuk of the Indem research institute said news that Yeltsin is ill is now taken in stride instead of disrupting political life as it did during 1996 and 1997. "After all that has happened, this is just a detail in the general picture," Korgunyuk said.


He said that Yeltsin might eventually regain some of his lost standing after a breathing space in which Primakov would have the thankless job of trying to fix Russia's economy.


"It might be a little early to write off Yeltsin. He has had such periods several times before," Korgunyuk said. "And every time, like the phoenix, he is reborn from the ashes."