Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 187

President Boris Yeltsin’s latest hospitalization has resparked discussion of how long the president will remain in office. Admitted over the weekend for the flu, Yeltsin reportedly left the Central Clinical Hospital today and went to his Gorky-9 residence outside of Moscow to recuperate (Reuters, October 11).

Speculation that he might be far sicker than the official explanation indicated was particularly fanned by NTV television, which, as part of Vladimir Gusinsky’s media empire, is locked in an information war with the Kremlin inner circle, and particularly Russian Public Television, the channel thought to be controlled by Boris Berezovsky. NTV, in its weekly news analysis program Itogi, held a phone-in survey of viewers, in which they were asked whether Yeltsin should have transferred his presidential powers to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin while he was ill. The vast majority of those who phoned in answered in the affirmative (NTV, October 10).

Thus, while it is possible that Yeltsin had a bout of flu and nothing more, it is also possible that his release from the hospital today was in reaction to the speculation by NTV and others. Segodnya, the daily newspaper which also belongs to Gusinsky’s empire, reported over the weekend and today that Yeltsin might soon step down as president for health reasons, by way of a last-ditch effort to catch the Kremlin’s main opponent off guard and thus retain power. That opponent, of course, is Fatherland-All Russia, the coalition headed by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov (Segodnya, October 9, 11). If Yeltsin stepped down now, new presidential elections would be held in three months, which might benefit Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Yeltsin’s designated heir apparent. Putin’s approval rating has risen steadily since the start of the conflict in Chechnya, but some observers say that it could drop precipitously if casualties start mounting among the Russian servicemen fighting in Chechnya.