Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 4 Issue: 21

As October reached its end, Russian political life seemed much closer to a post-Yeltsin era than it had just two weeks earlier. The Russian president was back in the government sanitarium at Barvikha, just outside Moscow, where he had spent the last part of 1996 recovering from multiple-heart-bypass surgery. This time, Yeltsin’s doctors there had ordered him to treat the after-effects of a bout of bronchitis, which had caused a wobbly presidential performance during a state visit to Central Asia and forced the cancellation of another to Vienna. The president’s exhaustion, his spokesmen reported, had only been made worse by his insistence on ignoring his doctors’ orders and showing up for work at the Kremlin.

Indeed, the Kremlin administration’s attitude toward its boss seems to have shifted from what might be called “overprotective”–that is, blatantly lying about his heart problems back in 1996–to the somewhat annoyed and impatient attitude one might take toward an ailing but obstreperous relative. Thus, Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Oleg Sysuev openly announced that Yeltsin will no longer be troubling himself with such things as the daily management of the Russian economy, but will instead concentrate on his role as “guarantor” of Russia’s constitution, territorial integrity and freedom of speech and the press. Sysuev’s comments jibed with the rumor that the president’s inner circle–chiefly, presidential administration chief Valentin Yumashev, along with Yeltsin’s wife Naina and very influential daughter, Tatyana–had agreed on a long-term strategy by which the president would serve out his term in an increasingly “ceremonial” capacity, with the day-to-day running of the country gradually handed over to Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. The fact that Primakov stood in for Yeltsin in Vienna gave further credence to this rumor.