Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 221

President Boris Yeltsin is again in the hospital, this time with suspected pneumonia. The president, who has reportedly been suffering from a viral infection and bronchitis since November 25, was taken to Moscow’s Central Clinical Hospital yesterday following a meeting with Kremlin administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin. Prior to the announcement that Yeltsin had been hospitalized, Russia’s major television channels broadcast a soundless video clip of Yeltsin’s meeting with Voloshin (ORT, November 29). After the announcement, presidential spokesman Dmitri Yakushkin said the president would remain in the hospital for about a week, maintaining a “partial workload.” Yakushkin said that Yeltsin still plans to meet with recently reelected Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on December 6 (Russian agencies, November 30).

Indeed, Russian officials seem to be working overtime to get the message out that Yeltsin’s condition is not serious. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, just before leaving Moscow today to attend Kuchma’s inauguration, characterized Yeltsin’s condition as “satisfactory.” Putin said that there would not be any “surprises” or changes in the political situation as a result of Yeltsin’s illness. Likewise, the Russian agencies news agency today quoted anonymous “well-informed sources” as saying that Kremlin administration officials had arrived in Beijing to complete preparations for Yeltsin’s planned visit to China, which is supposed to take place some time during the first half of December. According to the Kremlin press service, Yeltsin today spoke by telephone with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who is visiting Moscow, and confirmed that he would visit Bethlehem at the beginning of January to attend celebrations marking the 2000th anniversary of Christianity (Russian agencies, November 30).

Yeltsin came down with his latest illness last Thursday (November 25), and the planned signing on Friday (November 26) of a Russia-Belarus union treaty with Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka was thus postponed. The postponement of the treaty signing led some Russian observers to conclude that the illness was “diplomatic”–meaning that opponents of the union treaty within Russia’s ruling elite had convinced Yeltsin to change his mind and not sign the document. Yakushkin categorically denied this theory several times, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stressed that he and Yeltsin had discussed the treaty by telephone on November 26 while the president was resting at his Gorky-9 residence outside Moscow. Putin said that the Russian and Belarusan presidential administrations were working on rescheduling the union treaty signing, and that he hoped it would occur in the first half of December (Russian agencies, November 27-28).

In any case, Yeltsin’s hospitalization yesterday would seem to confirm that Yeltsin’s illness is indeed physiological, not diplomatic. On the other hand, the avalanche of leaks and statements stressing the nonserious nature of Yeltsin’s condition is bound to spark another wave of rumors, given the Kremlin’s historical pattern of dissembling when it comes to Yeltsin’s health. Even prior to Yeltsin’s hospitalization, rumors were rife. Following the announcement last week that Yeltsin had caught a cold and bronchitis, one newspaper, noting that Yeltsin had been taken ill just hours after he met with his top security and military officials, speculated that a stealth military coup might have taken place. The paper claimed that one of its reporters had been in a building of the presidential administration and had seen desks festooned with portraits of Putin, rather than Yeltsin (Segodnya, November 27).