Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 152

The Kremlin has denied Western media reports that Russian president Boris Yeltsin is about to undergo surgery. Time Magazine claimed over the weekend to have obtained a report by Yeltsin’s doctors saying that his cardiac ischaemia (a heart condition caused by blocked arteries) had deteriorated so much that he had to go abroad for double bypass surgery. A Kremlin spokesman told Itar-Tass today that there was no need for surgery. He said that the president was currently working in his countryside residence, and undergoing a "planned medical checkup" before going on vacation. (Itar-Tass, August 19)

In reality, no one knows what Yeltsin is suffering from or how serious his illness is. Yeltsin has stayed out of public view since his brief appearance at his August 9 inauguration, when he looked frail and slurred his words. The absence of hard news is provoking the wildest speculation. Germany’s Bild Zeitung claims the president has had a heart transplant; Russia’s Zavtra alleges that a double stood in for Yeltsin at his inauguration and that the only obstacle to his permanent replacement is the double’s unnaturally high voice. More soberly, Moscow News’ Viktor Loshak saw the inauguration as a sign that, during his second term, Yeltsin will reign but not rule, and that real power will be wielded by the troika of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, presidential Chief-of-Staff Anatoly Chubais, and security chief Aleksandr Lebed. (Moskovskie novosti, August 11-18) Last week’s open display of rivalry between Lebed and Interior Minister Kulikov was an indication that Yeltsin’s infirmity, whatever its cause, has created a yawning power vacuum.

Chechnya: Lebed’s Poison Chalice?