Russian president Boris Yeltsin returned to the Kremlin this morning for a meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. (BBC World Service, January 28) Like the half-hour office visit Yeltsin made to his office last week, today’s visit appears timed to dispel speculation over Yeltsin’s poor health. Yesterday, the Kremlin announced that the president had canceled a two-day visit to meet with European Union officials planned for February 4. A brief Kremlin statement said the president’s trip to the Netherlands, which currently holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, had been indefinitely postponed because doctors said he was not yet well enough to travel.
The president, who will turn 66 on February 1, has not been seen in public for three weeks. His aides had said privately that the Hague visit would be perceived as an indicator of the president’s health and ability to return to work full time. They said Yeltsin had been set on making the trip to the Netherlands, which would have been his first foreign visit since last April. Instead, the Kremlin announced, a summit between Russian and European Union leaders will take place in Moscow in the near future. No announcement has yet been made about a meeting scheduled for February 2 in Moscow with French president Jacques Chirac. (AP, January 27)
Speaking in Moscow yesterday, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin sought to reassure foreign investors that Yeltsin’s ill health will not derail the country’s economic reforms. He said Russia hopes to boost foreign investment in 1997 and will take steps to make Russian markets more attractive for outside investors. (AP, January 27) Unconfirmed reports from Moscow say Yeltsin’s team is casting about for ways of keeping him in power despite his ill health. Should this prove impossible, there are said to be plans to amend the constitution so that the president would be appointed by parliament, rather than being popularly elected, as Yeltsin was. The aim is to prevent the election of Aleksandr Lebed. Polls show that Lebed is the politician Russians trust the most, but his election would threaten the interests of the new capitalists who now make up Yeltsin’s retinue.
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