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Russia: Yeltsin Delegates Some Authority, But Controls Nuclear Button

Moscow, 10 September 1996 (RFE/RL) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin has given Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin oversight of the so-called security ministries while he is off work before heart surgery. But Yeltsin has retained control of the nuclear "red button."

Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky made the announcement today to reporters in Moscow. The ministries of defense, interior, security and the border service are directly subordinated to Yeltsin, who is preparing to undergo heart surgery later this month.

Interfax quotes Yastrzhembsy as saying the 65-year-old president will keep control of the nuclear "red button." Yeltsin, who is resting at a country residence outside Moscow, said the security ministries must consult with Chernomyrdin. The Kremlin did not specify who would be in control of the nuclear button during the actual surgery.

"We're not saying anything about that yet," said Yastrzhembsy.

However, the 65-year-old president remains commander in chief of the armed forces and in charge of the nuclear weapons launch codes. An RFE/RL correspondent says Yeltsin, defense minister Igor Rodionov and chief of staff Mikhail Kolesnikov are the only Russian officials who have the authority to order a launch of ballistic missiles.

Meanwhile, President Yeltsin's heart surgery is still on schedule for the end of this month and the exact date will be fixed very soon, says the first deputy head of the Kremlin's diagnostic centre.

In an interview with Interfax news agency today, Yuri Perov confirmed earlier reports that the operation will be a heart bypass. Announcing last week he would undergo heart surgery, Yeltsin said it would be performed at the end of this month at Moscow's Cardiological Centre. Top Russian heart specialists will meet in a few days to determine the precise date of the surgery, he said.

Perov also dismissed speculation that German and not Russian doctors would operate on 65-year-old Yeltsin. But he did not confirm reports that the operation would be performed by surgeon Renat Akchurin at Moscow's Cardiological Centre. The Centre's head, Yevgeny Chazov, has said the decision on where to operate would be made by the doctors' council at the end of the month.