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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kuchma Visits Recovering Yeltsin




President Boris Yeltsin on Monday left the hospital where he had been undergoing treatment for pneumonia and met with the visiting leader of Ukraine, the presidential press service said.


The Kremlin also said Yeltsin and Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko would go ahead Wednesday with the signing of a union treaty, which was postponed last month when Yeltsin fell ill.


Yeltsin, 68, fell ill 11 days ago with what the Kremlin said was bronchitis. Doctors sent him to the Central Clinical Hospital on Nov. 29 after diagnosing possible pneumonia.


After meeting Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, Yeltsin left for his Gorki-9 country residence, located just outside Moscow, to continue his recovery, the press service said.


Yeltsin and Kuchma agreed in principle to restructure Ukraine's debt to Russia, a huge sum run up largely because of Ukraine's reliance on Russian natural gas. The country's gas debt to Russia is about $1.8 billion.


Despite the president's recent health troubles, the Kremlin said he would undertake two trips abroad in the next several weeks.


Yeltsin aide Sergei Prikhodko announced that the president would travel to China on Wednesday, after he signs a treaty on closer economic and political cooperation between Russia and Belarus on the same day, Interfax said.


Prikhodko also confirmed Yeltsin's plans to visit Bethlehem on Orthodox Christmas, Jan. 7.


During their meeting, Kuchma said, Yeltsin appeared "energetic [and] cheerful," Interfax reported. It has become customary for foreign leaders to compliment the ailing president's health after meetings. Television footage showed the two hugging.


Kuchma, who flew into Moscow on Monday, also met with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. From Moscow, Kuchma left for Paris and was then expected to fly to Washington, Interfax reported.


In 1996, Yeltsin and Lukashenko signed an agreement that boosted political, economic and military ties between Russia and Belarus, but stopped short of a full merger.


The new agreement, drawn up in October, proposes setting up a council of officials from both nations, but still keeps Belarus and Russia separate. A similar, weaker body, the Supreme Council of the Russian-Belarussian Union, already exists.


The Belarussian leader, who is openly nostalgic for the Soviet Union, had previously been reluctant to accept the union treaty because it falls short of his goal to merge the two countries into a single state.


Many Russian officials appear wary of full integration because of Lukashenko's authoritarian policies and because Belarus' collapsing economy could put an addition burden on Russia.


Gennady Seleznyov, speaker of the State Duma, or lower house of parliament, said Monday that the Duma would convene to ratify the treaty Dec. 13 or 14, Interfax reported.


The Duma finished its regular session Friday, and the deputies will have to return from the campaign trail for the Dec. 19 election to vote.