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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kremlin Declares Yeltsin Is On Mend




President Boris Yeltsin's recovery from a week-old respiratory infection is going so well that doctors plan to take him off antibiotics Friday, the Kremlin said Thursday.


But chief Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky was forced to fight back against a skeptical Russian press, denying two separate reports that Yeltsin's illness was growing worse, and that he was suffering from depression.


"Everything we told you corresponds to reality," Yastrzhembsky flatly told journalists during a Kremlin briefing. "There are no other reasons for the postponement" of Yeltsin's meetings this week.


The Kremlin's Thursday morning statement said Yeltsin's health was "satisfactory and the inflammation was decreasing,'' so doctors planned to stop the antibiotics treatment.


The seemingly chronically ill president's schedule was wiped clean when the Kremlin announced one week ago that he had developed a respiratory infection.


During his previous health setback, when Yeltsin went down with a monthlong case of the flu in mid-December, the Kremlin was at pains to regularly release video footage of him. The recuperating president was shown riding snowmobiles and even skiing.


But this time, Yeltsin has been missing from television screens since he was shown coughing at a public function last Thursday. He is reported to be resting at the Gorky-9 government dacha just outside Moscow, and Yastrzhembsky gave assurances that fresh footage of Yeltsin would be released Friday.


The Kremlin has developed something of a credibility problem on reporting the president's health. It once released dated photographs in an effort to show that an ill Yeltsin was not bed-ridden, and it initially called a mid-summer 1996 heart attack that led to a November multiple bypass operation a "bad cold."


While Russian markets have shrugged off Yeltsin's latest coughs and sneezes, the less credulous press has come out with several reports suggesting the Kremlin was again being untruthful about the president's health.


On Thursday, Kommersant Daily quoted the Kremlin's chief of staff, Valentin Yumashev, as telling Russian newspaper editors this week how doctors were growing nervous about Yeltsin's respiratory infection, becoming worried it could spread.


"There is a danger of complications," Kommersant quoted Yumashev as saying.


The Kremlin press office denied that Yumashev ever said such a thing. The Argumenty i Fakty weekly came out with its own version of events. Without quoting sources, it said the president was suffering from "mild depression" and was not in a mood to see anyone.


"That article does not correspond to reality," Yastrzhembsky said in Thursday's briefing.


Instead, as he has done in Yeltsin's illnesses past, Yastrzhembsky painted a picture of a president raring to get back into the thick of things.


He said Yeltsin would still attend a "troika" summit with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President Jacques Chirac set to open in Yeltsin's native Yekaterinburg next Thursday.


Again, keeping to a traditional Kremlin script, Yastrzhembsky said Yeltsin was unhappy with the conduct of some senior ministers and has asked Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to investigate.


Yeltsin singled out the deputy ministers of finance, defense and agriculture, accusing them of "lobbying" during last year's long budget debates. Russian television interpreted the announcement as a sign that another Kremlin shake-up is in store.


The Kremlin also announced that Yeltsin was stripping 41 regional leaders, including Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, of their federally issued bodyguards. The decision was advertised as a cost-saving measure.


On the foreign affairs front, the Kremlin poured more fuel on a raging diplomatic dispute with the Baltic nation of Latvia, and also urged parliament to ratify the START II nuclear arms reduction treaty and clear the way for a Moscow summer summit between Yeltsin and U.S. President Bill Clinton.


Yastrzhembsky said this week's Waffen SS march through the Latvian capital, Riga, which was attended by the city police chief and head of the nation's ground forces, was "outrageous." He accused the West of turning a blind eye.


A Latvian Foreign Ministry spokesman defended the SS march. He said any government officials attending the function did so as private citizens.


The Kremlin spokesman said Russia may still impose economic sanctions on Latvia for using force against elderly ethnic Russian protesters March 3. The protest ended with one police officer beating several pensioners with a club.


But Russian news agencies later quoted Chernomyrdin as saying that economic sanctions had already been ruled out.


Washington, meanwhile, has made a summit with Yeltsin -- much coveted by the Kremlin -- dependent on ratification of START II by the opposition-dominated State Duma, parliament's lower house. The arms reduction treated would slash stockpiles of long-range nuclear weapons and has already been approved by the U.S. Senate. But it has never reached the lower house of Russia's parliament for a vote.