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Western Press Review: What Happens Next In Yeltsin's Russia?

  • Don Hill

Prague, 6 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Boris Yeltsin's new-found candor on his heart trouble and the likely effects of his absence from Russian public life for surgery capture the attention of Western commentators.

NEW YORK TIMES: The decision to have surgery does not come easily to Yeltsin

Alessandra Stanley sets the stage in an analysis in today's paper, writing: "Ending months of silence about his health and shattering a Kremlin taboo, President Boris Yeltsin acknowledged (yesterday) that he needed heart surgery and said that he would have an operation later this month in Moscow." She said: "Yeltsin's announcement, made in a taped television interview, was forced by mounting speculation about his condition and, more particularly, growing criticism of the Kremlin's efforts to conceal it." Stanley concluded: "The decision to have surgery did not come easily to Yeltsin."

POLITIKEN: A Kremlin power struggle will complicate options for a solution of the Chechen conflict

The Danish paper editorializes today: "After weeks -- well, years -- of rumors, speculation and denials, Russian President Boris Yeltsin has publicly admitted that he has a heart problem and before too long should undergo an operation, presumably bypass surgery. (The longer he's gone, the more) the power struggle between Prime Minister (Viktor) Chernomyrdin, Presidential Chief of Staff Anatoly Chubais and Security Adviser Aleksandr Lebed will intensify. Such a power struggle will but further complicate the options for a solution of the Chechen conflict which has now entered a decisive phase with real possibilities to end the war."

WASHINGTON POST: Heart surgery in Moscow is not much riskier than in the U.S.

David Brown writes in a news analysis in today's paper: "Heart surgery in Moscow is probably not much riskier than it is in the United States, assuming the patient carefully picks the surgeon and hospital, according to several American doctors who have had direct contact with Russian medicine and its practitioners." Brown says, "The risk of death of a man in his mid-60s undergoing bypass surgery is between 2 and 5 percent. There is a range because of a variety of factors (including luck) that may alter one's risk."

NEW YORK TIMES: The Kremlin mishandled growing skepticism about Yeltsin's condition

In a news analysis yesterday before Yeltsin's announcement, Alessandra Stanley had written: "Asked about the health of President Boris Yeltsin, his chief of staff, Anatoly Chubais, admitted Wednesday that there was a problem. Yeltsin, he said, was fine. But Chubais conceded that the Kremlin had mishandled growing skepticism about the 65-year-old Russian president's condition. He refused to describe Yeltsin's symptoms, but promised that a new information policy would be unveiled within the next few days." The article continued: "Under mounting criticism and suspicion, the Kremlin is struggling to find a way to defuse an issue that is overshadowing Yeltsin's presidency without actually divulging the exact nature of his illness."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The question of who will succeed Yeltsin is moving to the fore

Germany's paper says today in an editorial: "For months now the main task facing correspondents in Moscow has been keeping an eye for the smallest details which could provide a clue to the Russian president's state of health." The newspaper says: "Now that the president has said that he has to undergo a heart operation matters will finally be clarified." It goes on: "Now the question of who is to succeed Yeltsin is moving to the fore. And the battles for his legacy which have been going on behind the scenes for some time are also coming into the open."

LONDON TIMES: Yeltsin was invisible when a presidential decision about Chechnya was indispensable

The paper says today in an editorial: "In old, established democracies, evasiveness is a tolerated political vice -- unedifying but rarely capable of serious harm. In a polity as unproven as that of Russia, it can be highly destabilizing." The paper goes on: "Boris Yeltsin has been almost invisible and, still more tellingly, inaudible even when -- notably over Chechnya -- a presidential decision was indispensable. The announcement that he is to undergo surgery later this month has the great merit of leveling with the voters." The editorial concludes: "Mr. Yeltsin has been brave about his health; but about his political future, he is showing himself as nervous as any Bolshevik."

WASHINGTON POST: Yeltsin's refusal to comment on the Chechen agreement is most damaging

An editorial in yesterday's edition discussed the work of one of the Russian leaders in the second echelon, behind Yeltsin. The newspaper said: "When Russian troops invaded the breakaway region of Chechnya in December 1994, a few military analysts predicted that victory would not be as swift or easy as Moscow's generals expected. But only the Chechens themselves dared predict an outright Russian defeat. Yet, astonishingly, that is what has happened." The Post said, "It took a former army general with impeccable nationalist credentials and no responsibility for the war -- national security adviser Alexander Lebed -- to acknowledge the reality of Russia's defeat and arrange for its troop withdrawal." The editorial said, "It should come as no surprise that opportunistic pseudo-patriots such as Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov are seeking to whip up nationalist opposition to the Lebed deal. It is worse to see supposed liberals, such as President Boris Yeltsin's chief of staff Anatoly Chubais, dissociating themselves from the deal. Most damaging of all is Yeltsin's own refusal thus far to comment."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Lebed is under attack from communists, ultra nationalists, and Yeltsin's own entourage

The paper said yesterday in an editorial: "Alexander Lebed was sent by President Boris Yeltsin to negotiate an end to the Chechen Republic's bloody struggle to become independent of the Russian Federation. He did so and now is under attack from communists, ultra nationalists and some members of Yeltsin's own entourage for making peace on terms they condemn as humiliating to Russia. Lebed has supporters, including Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, who is among those best informed about just how poorly Russia's once feared army did against the Chechens."

NEW YORK TIMES: Lebed's Kremlin colleagues owe him thanks for a belated peace

Yesterday's paper editorialized: "Though few of his Kremlin colleagues are willing to admit it, they owe thanks to Alexander Lebed for this belated peace. The settlement arranged by Lebed, President Boris Yeltsin's senior national security adviser, is not elegant. It does not resolve the issue that provoked the conflict, Chechnya's secession and claim to full independence." The paper said: "But Lebed, unlike other Kremlin aides who have unsuccessfully wrestled with the crisis, recognized that peace was more important than pride. The former general saw that further slaughter was senseless and understood that inexperienced, poorly-led Russian troops had essentially been licked by the Chechen irregulars." The editorial concluded: "The time had come for Moscow to cut its losses. Lebed made the best of that thankless job. A more confident and compassionate government would welcome his efforts and start the painful task of healing a bruised land."