Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 12

President Boris Yeltsin, who was hospitalized on January 17 with an acute bleeding stomach ulcer, was reported to be in “stable” condition yesterday. Sergei Mironov, the Kremlin’s chief doctor, said that the internal bleeding had stopped, and that it was possible Yeltsin’s condition could be treated with drugs alone, thereby avoiding surgery. Mironov said that if the Russian head of state’s condition continued to improve, and if surgery could be avoided, Yeltsin’s stay in the Central Clinical Hospital would be limited to two to three weeks. Mironov said, however, that it would probably be difficult for Yeltsin to travel for the next three months (NTV, January 18).

The general line on Yeltsin’s latest illness–in Russia’s newspapers and in other commentary–is that the country is accustomed to the president’s being sick more often than not, and that his latest hospitalization, in itself, is therefore neither a crisis nor a cause for alarm. Indeed, Russia’s financial markets barely reacted to the news–though this was not much of a surprise, given that markets themselves have been in intensive care since last August.

Whatever the case, politicians from across the political spectrum yesterday put the emphasis on normalcy and the absence of a crisis. Even Gennady Seleznev, the speaker of the State Duma and a leading member of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), said yesterday that Yeltsin’s illness will “in no way affect the situation in the country.” Seleznev, who the day before had called for Yeltsin’s powers to be transferred temporarily to Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, was calmer yesterday, saying there were “no uncertainties” in the current situation. Regional leaders struck a similar note. Ruslan Aushev, president of Ingushetia, predicted Russia would “remain stable” because it has a “mobile and able-bodied” stand-in in the person of Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. Saratov Governor Dmitri Ayatskov saw “no basis for panic” in the situation, and predicted that Yeltsin would continue to “govern” the country until his term expires next year. To emphasize the absence of a crisis, Primakov’s office announced that the prime minister would travel today to Kazakhstan to attend the inauguration of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, and would go ahead with his plans to attend the annual international economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, at the beginning of February (Russian agencies, January 18).

In a front-page commentary today, one newspaper attributed the “unexpected political calm” to the fact that “the elite is not ready for pre-term elections and that practically all political forces are interested in maintaining the… status quo. For different reasons, each of the major politicians feel better with Yeltsin than without him. Some need him for a demonstration of [their] opposition [credentials], others are simply not interested in the situation becoming unbalanced” (Izvestia, January 19).