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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Recovering Yeltsin Meets Sergeyev in Sochi




As Communist critics questioned his fitness to govern, President Boris Yeltsin mixed work with his Sochi vacation by meeting Tuesday with Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev to discuss military reform.


Yeltsin, recuperating from what the Kremlin calls a weakened condition after bronchitis, was shown on television receiving Sergeyev on the steps of his residence in the Black Sea resort town. Yeltsin, dressed in a sweater and slacks, was shown smiling but without sound.


Sergeyev emerged from the meeting to tell journalists that the president had approved the issuance of certificates redeemable for state-funded housing and the allocation of 200 million rubles ($12.84 million according to Wednesday's rate) for officers leaving service as Russia downsizes its bloated military.


"One can conclude that despite the serious economic situation, the president continues to pay close attention to the reform of the armed forces," Sergeyev said. The two also discussed combining branches of the military, and a defense agenda for 1999, news services reported.


The meeting was largely symbolic, said Yevgeny Volk, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation's Moscow office.


Yeltsin, politically sidelined by doubtful health and the Aug. 17 ruble collapse, has handed over much of his power to Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. Primakov will replace Yeltsin at a Nov. 17 and 18 Asian economic summit in Malaysia, where he is to meet U.S. President Bill Clinton, Itar-Tass reported.


"From time to time, Yeltsin would like to demonstrate that he is still in charge," Volk said. "But in fact no decisions can be taken on the power structures without Primakov."


Volk said the meeting was partly a response to a draft bill in the State Duma that would demand an accounting of the president's health on grounds that Yeltsin, who had heart bypass surgery in 1996, can no longer fulfill his role as commander in chief. The Duma leadership decided Tuesday to take up the bill at Thursday's session.


The sponsor, hard-line Communist Viktor Ilyukhin, said he was still hopeful for passage despite statements by Alexander Kotenkov, the president's representative in the Duma, that the bill contained legal contradictions.


Kotenkov was quoted by Itar-Tass as saying that the bill resembled an executive order - which the Duma cannot legally issue.


Members of the Our Home Is Russia and of the liberal Yabloko faction expressed opposition. "We aren't going to support it for the simple reason that it's a stupid law," Yabloko Deputy Sergei Ivanenko said. "You can't pass a law about just one person."


Even if it passes the Duma, the bill would almost certainly be either rejected by the Federation Council, parliament's upper house, or vetoed by Yeltsin.


Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov continued his drumbeat of criticism, begun in earnest Saturday, to the effect that Yeltsin is too drunk to be president. The country was being ruled "by an unsober person," Zyuganov was quoted as saying by Interfax.


Responding to threats of unspecified legal action from the Kremlin administration, Zyuganov said "alcoholism was not an insult, but a disease from which it is very difficult to recover." Yeltsin, he said, "is a completely irresponsible person, who is incapable of ruling the country in extraordinary circumstances."


Appearing on NTV's "Geroi Dnya," or "Hero of the Day," program, Zyuganov said, "As a human being I feel sorry for him. But I feel sorry for the country, too."


As evidence of Yeltsin's drunkenness, Zyuganov mentioned two incidents from 1994, when Yeltsin failed to get off a plane while on a runway to meet the president of Ireland, and when on a visit to Berlin he boisterously took over conducting a German military band.