Moscow, 5 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin said before the start of his bypass surgery this morning that he was sure the operation would go well. Yeltsin reassured the Russian people that there would be no power vacuum.
Yeltsin handed all power to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin just before entering the operating room. These powers include control of Russia's nuclear arsenal, Kremlin press spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky told a news conference in Moscow a few hours after the start of the operation at 5 a.m. Central European Time.
Yastrzhembsky quoted Yeltsin's statement as saying that Russia "will not be without a leader for a minute." Yeltsin added that he believes he will "soon be working at full strength, as before."
Yeltsin's surgery is expected to last six to eight hours, said Yastrzhembsky. He said the president was in jovial mood before the operation, joking with Kremlin doctor Sergei Mironov.
A team of 12 doctors is attending the operation headed by Russian heart specialist Renat Akchurin., said Yastrzhembsky.
A team of foreign doctors led by U.S. heart specialist Michael DeBakey was to arrive at the hospital shortly. DeBakey had acted as an adviser to the Russian team, but is not taking take part in the operation.
If all goes according to plan, Yeltsin will resume his presidential authority shortly after the operation.
The 65-year-old Yeltsin was driven early today in a motorcade from a sanatorium west of the Russian capital to the Moscow Cardiology Centre to undergo surgery.
Meanwhile, U.S. President Bill Clinton has sent Russian President Boris Yeltsin "best wishes for a speedy recovery" from his heart operation.
White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry says the president has authorized a message to Yeltsin "offering his best wishes for a speedy recovery."
McCurry's comments came just hours after Yeltsin's surgery began in a Moscow hospital. Clinton was in South Dakota on the last stop of his campaign for re-election.
The Chinese government also sent its best wishes to Yeltsin. Foreign Ministry spokesman Cui Tiankai said China hopes that "President Yeltsin's operation will be completed successfully and that he recovers as soon as possible."
He also expressed China's hope that stability would be maintained in Russia during Yeltsin's convalescence.