Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 200

The recent eleventh-hour decision to send Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov to Vienna in place of Russian President Boris Yeltsin has cast a spotlight on the adverse impact that the Russian leader’s poor health is having on the country’s diplomatic efforts. Yeltsin had been scheduled to consult with European Union leaders on a host of key economic and security issues. His infirmities seem likely to complicate other high-level diplomatic exchanges scheduled to take place between Russia and a host of other countries in the coming weeks.

The Kremlin has already decided, for example, that Primakov will stand in for Yeltsin during an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum scheduled to start in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on November 17. Further, both Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien have announced that they will postpone plans to visit Moscow. Tudjman was to arrive in the Russian capital on November 2; Chretien’s visit was scheduled for January of next year (Russian agencies, October 28). A Canadian trade mission to Russia which was to have been led by Chretien has also canceled its plans to visit, though the reason it cited was Russia’s economic difficulties.

What is less clear is whether Yeltsin’s poor health will also cause the postponement or cancellation of two other major diplomatic events scheduled for Moscow next month: summit talks between Yeltsin and Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi on November 10-13 and between Yeltsin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin sometime later in the month.

Kremlin sources yesterday denied press reports that the Yeltsin-Obuchi meeting is likely to be canceled. That denial came a day after presidential spokesman Dmitri Yakushkin referred specifically to the Japanese-Russian and Chinese-Russian talks in telling reporters that no changes are planned in Boris Yeltsin’s schedule of meetings with heads of foreign states (Russian agencies, October 27-28). On October 27, moreover, a top Japanese government official said that Tokyo had been informed by the Kremlin that there are no plans to reschedule Obuchi’s talks in Moscow (Kyodo, October 27). The same appeared to be true with regard to Jiang Zemin’s planned visit. During a recently concluded trip to Beijing by Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, the Chinese leader said he was looking forward to his upcoming talks with Yeltsin.