Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 188

The eyes of most political observers were fixed again on Boris Yeltsin’s precarious health and increasingly faltering public performances. Russia’s television stations and newspapers alike devoted extensive coverage to Yeltsin’s near-falls in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and the truncation of his official swing through Central Asia. Kremlin spokesmen admitted that the head of state, who twice had to be supported by Uzbek President Islam Karimov while inspecting an honor guard, was suffering not only from a cold, but from bronchitis. Yeltsin returned to Moscow on October 13 from Kazakhstan. His planned stay in Almaty was cut from one day to six hours (Russian agencies, October 12-13).

Several newspapers reported new details of Yeltsin’s behavior during the trip. “Kommersant daily” quoted an unnamed source as saying that on October 13, when Yeltsin was awakened at 7 a.m., he rebuked his aides for waking him so late, saying that he would be late for work. The president appeared to think he was in the Kremlin, not in Kazakhstan. “Kommersant daily” also quoted an unnamed official in the presidential administration as saying that Yeltsin’s overall performance during the Central Asia trip was much worse than his trip to Sweden last year. During that official visit, Yeltsin, addressing reporters in Stockholm, at first appeared to think he was in Finland, and then referred to Japan and Germany as nuclear powers. “It’s much worse than Sweden,” the official told the newspaper. “Only, thank God, the journalists didn’t hear anything” (Kommersant daily, October 13).

Even the newspaper “Izvestia”, whose coverage of the Central Asia trip was more tactful, noted that Yeltsin was feeling ill even before he flew out of Moscow. As a result, he was accompanied during the trip by Sergei Mironov, head of the Kremlin’s medical center.

Various attempts to play down Yeltsin’s latest health problems were unconvincing. As “Izvestia” noted, members of his official delegation in Central Asia, “who usually permit themselves only optimistic assessments of the president’s physical and mental health, this time did not deny the obvious.” The newspaper quoted one, Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel, as saying, “Boris Nikolayevich doesn’t feel well–nothing terrible, let him sit for a while in Moscow, peacefully recuperate, rest. Nobody wants pre-term elections. It would be a catastrophe” (Izvestia, October 13).