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Western Press Review: Yeltsin's Surgery Spurs Debate

By Joe Schneider and Katarzyna Wysocka

Prague, 23 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Discussion of the health of Russian President Boris Yeltsin, the unexpected candor of his physician and the role of the Russian media dominate the pages of the Western press today, as does post-election speculation about Bosnia.

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Yeltsin's surgery is a serious undertaking

In an analysis, staff reporter Steve Liesman writes: "Since the president disclosed he would have heart surgery earlier this month, Kremlin officials have systematically withheld key details and played down the risk...The reason for the disinformation appears rooted in both a long tradition of Soviet silence regarding the health of top leaders and concern for political stability...But the doctors, who must face the risk of the president not surviving, appear to have a separate agenda. Dr. (Renat) Akchurin's (the surgeon likely to perform Yeltsin's heart bypass operation) comments seemed designed to debunk the Kremlin portrayal. 'The mass media has presented the whole thing as just a light stroll,' he said. 'This kind of surgery is not a light stroll. It is a serious undertaking.'

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: The Russian media ignored Yeltsin's doctor's bombshell statement

The Russian media's role in reporting on Yeltsin's condition is also coming under scrutiny in the West. Akchurin first revealed on U.S. television that Yeltsin must have had an undisclosed heart attack last June and the resulting damage may have made it too dangerous to operate. Alan Philps notes: "The doctor's Friday bombshell was all but ignored by the Russian media, which is still shy of speculating about the president's health and its implications for the future of democracy in Russia. State TV buried the news of the latest heart attack, reporting 'a new wave of journalistic fuss about the president's health.' The Kremlin made no comment.

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Chancellor Kohl sees no power vacuum in Moscow

In a signed editorial, Guenther Nonnenmacher notes the growing power struggle in the Kremlin: "When Chancellor (Helmut) Kohl returned from his visit of the ill Yeltsin, he said there was no power vacuum in Moscow. This is true for two reasons: In the Kremlin, the center of power, doesn't reign emptiness but a throng; the President himself decides from his sick-bed all the important questions -- that's how it seems, despite news of the seriousness of the illness. Chubais, the head of the presidential apparatus, by now a friend of Yeltsin's family, acts as care-taker, who takes care of his boss's prerogatives. The wings of the climber Lebed -- who aspired to become vice-president and designated successor -- have been cut: Chernomyrdin, the Prime Minister and economic leader has been designated the President's representative during the President's absence because of his illness -- approximately, even though not exactly, how it is written in the constitution. . . .It is questionable if the Russians who live outside the Kremlin walls are interested in such games. The majority of the people are busy trying to organize their daily life."

LIBERATION: Yeltsin's operation has been continually postponed for political, not medical reasons

Beatrice Bantman writes in the French newspaper that "even if Boris Yeltsin were not 65, even if he were not an alcoholic, even if he were not in a poor physical condition and even if he were not a head of state, the heart operation he must have (a triple-arterial bypass) would not be a simple procedure. But Yeltsin's cumulation of physical problems and the issue of an operation, according to specialists, has become more uncertain also because it has been continually postponed, more for political reasons than medical ones."


Confusion over election results in Bosnia is also prominently covered in the western press today. The Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) admitted over the weekend the results of the election are inaccurate because some results were posted into the computer twice and there were other wrong calculations. As a result the question whether Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic received the most votes, as first concluded, now is in doubt.

LIBERATION: Election fraud is a serious discredit to the OSCE

Helene Despic asks: "Were the September 14 Bosnian elections a monumental fraud? The uncertainty is on everyone's mind since the non-governmental organization which scrutinized the vote revealed there were more votes cast than people registered to vote. In its report, with its complex calculations, the International Crisis Group...concluded the level of participation in the election of the three members of the Bosnian presidency was greater than 103 percent...Since the fraud has taken place in a country that has known communism for 45 years, been under the rule of nationalistic parties for six years and had gone through 42 months of war, the results are not altogether surprising. But the fact they occurred under the supervision of the OSCE is a serious discredit to the international community that organized (the elections)."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: America may have to use incentives and punishments to deal with Croatia

But writing from Zagreb, Jim Hoagland warns that the international community must also be concerned with the developments in Croatia. He writes Croatian President Franjo Tudjman "has gradually entrenched his controls over the Croatian-inhabited western Herzegovina region of Bosnia, with Zagreb issuing the currency used in the region, controlling its communication networks and dictating party leaders and platforms in the campaign for the September 14 election. Left to his own instincts, Mr. Tudjman probably would annex western Herzegovina, using force if necessary, diplomats in Zagreb believe. But Mr. Tudjman believes that he can wait for Bosnia to disintegrate and western Herzegovina to fall peacefully into his lap, like a ripe apple...If Mr. Tudjman is to be deterred from hastening the Bosnian breakup he foresees -- and from continuing the human rights abuses he has condoned against Croatia's Serb citizens -- America and its European allies will have to engage in a coordinated strategy of incentives and punishments for Croatia."

MLADA FRONTA DNES: One hopes the future American president will agree to extend the IFOR mandate

The Czech daily also urges today for the continuing role of international forces in Bosnia. Teodor Marjanovic writes in today's editorial: "Our soldiers came, did their work and now is time for them to leave -- top leaders in Washington often paraphrase the well-known doctrine of Gen. Colin Powell when it comes to talk of extending the Bosnian IFOR mandate. But these powerful politicians are mistaken in one thing -- the "work" in Bosnia is far from finished....One can only hope that a future American president -- once the current pre-election crazineness ends -- will realize he has no choice but to agree with the extending of the IFOR mandate for this time."