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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Drops In on Jiang in Beijing

Looking more fit than he has in years, a beaming and rosy-cheeked Boris Yeltsin touched down in Beijing on Monday for a 10-day vacation that was to include traditional Chinese medical treatments.

"I want to see the sights that I was never able to see during official visits," the former president said. "It was always talks, talks, talks."

Despite a bout of pneumonia earlier this year, Yeltsin appeared in great form, speaking with long-unheard clarity.

ORT television showed Yeltsin and Chinese leader Jiang Zemin greeting each other at the Zhongnanhai presidential compound in downtown Beijing.

"Hello, dear friend," Yeltsin growled, giving Jiang a bear hug.

During the half-hour meeting, Jiang also praised Yeltsin's form and noted that the former president has lost some weight. Jiang, who speaks Russian, said Yeltsin's wife, Naina, and daughter Tatyana Dyachenko no doubt deserved credit for Yeltsin's apparently stronger health, ORT reported.

Naina Yeltsin and Dyachenko, Yeltsin's longtime image adviser, are accompanying Yeltsin on the trip.

Yeltsin hinted that the purpose of his visit was in part political and not just a vacation.

"There was a question that we had to discuss, just the two of us. We talked about it and understood each other as we always did before," Yeltsin told the gathering at Zhongnanhai as he apologized for delaying dinner.

Yeltsin and Jiang have known each other for years. Jiang, according to some sources, likes to watch news in Russian and does so often. Yeltsin's trip to China is his seventh but first unofficial one.

"I like the fact that we, with my friend Jiang Zemin, the chairman of the People's Republic of China, have thawed our relations," Yeltsin said. "Now this cooperation is successfully developed under the guidance [President] Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Jiang Zemin."

Yeltsin aide Vladimir Shevchenko said the former president was taking the 10-day vacation at the personal invitation of Jiang, Interfax reported.

Shevchenko said Yeltsin will undergo traditional Chinese medical treatments during his stay, without providing details. He said Yeltsin will spend some of the trip on the shores the Yellow Sea.

Yeltsin's health problems stirred up a lot speculation that Russia would be left without a leader during his 1991-99 presidency. His illnesses led to a multiple bypass heart surgery in 1996.

Which Chinese health treatments Yeltsin was seeking during his visit was unclear Monday.

But the practice of looking abroad for medical advice — even alternative treatments — is not unheard of for the Russian and Soviet elite.

Yeltsin's 1996 heart surgery was conducted under the guidance of U.S. cardiologist Michael DeBakey.

Soviet Politburo members, including Leonid Brezhnev, were known to use various specialists, including psychic healers. Even in imperial Russia, royalty would often turn to unconventional cures. The most well-known of such specialists was, arguably, Grigory Rasputin. His mystic healing powers were used to treat Tsar Nicholas II's son Alexis, who suffered from hemophilia.

Also, Pyotr Badmayev, a specialist in Tibetan medicine, had a large practice in St. Petersburg in the late 19th century that offered cures such as herbal medicine. Badmayev, a Buryat by nationality whose first name before accepting Christianity was Zhamsaran, was also a doctor for Russia's two last emperors — Alexander III and Nicholas II.

With few details emerging from Yeltsin's trip Monday, the media avoided talking about the former president's health. Instead, they suggested that he was on a special mission to China to improve Russian-Chinese relations.

Andrei Ryabov, a political analyst with Moscow Carnegie Center, cast doubt on the speculation, saying, "If that were the case, if there was a need get a message across, Putin would have probably chosen someone more capable of diplomacy talk than Yeltsin in his current state."

"It sounds like a nice, courteous gesture from Jiang Zemin toward Yeltsin and Russia in general," he said.

Sergei Markov, the editor of the Kremlin-connected Strana.ru Internet site, said the invitation could be based on the fact that Chinese leaders strongly believe that Yeltsin is a powerful figure in Russia. "They are still convinced that Yeltsin in a very powerful figure. For them, he is a great teacher who brought up to power a chosen replacement. So of course they expect him to retain some serious power," Markov said.

From the moment Yeltsin stepped out of the Kremlin on New Year's Eve 1999, the world has seen or heard little of him. He was said to be working on a third installment of his memoirs, "Presidential Marathon," which was published in October 2000. The book was packed with praise for his chosen successor, Putin.

This year brought not much news from Yeltsin other than reports about his deteriorating health. In February, Yeltsin celebrated his 70th birthday in the elite Central Clinical Hospital with what his aides said was a flu. Later, the diagnosis was changed to pneumonia. Yeltsin spent a month in the hospital.

In early April, health problems were reported again when Yeltsin skipped a scheduled meeting with Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko.

It was unclear Monday whether Yeltsin was suffering from an illness that the Chinese could treat.

"But at his age and in his state there are always things to take care of," Markov said.