Moscow, 6 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Boris Yeltsin yesterday underwent an apparently successful seven-hour heart bypass surgery in Moscow.
Yeltsin, who is 65, was driven in the cover of morning darkness by motorcade from the Barvikha sanitarium west of the capital to the Moscow cardiology center, where the bypass was carried out.
While the surgery was underway, Kremlin press secretary Sergei Yastrzhembsky told reporters that Yeltsin had shortly before signed a decree temporarily handing over his powers, including control of the nuclear arsenal, to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.
Yeltsin also issued a public statement, saying that the country will not "be left without a leader for a minute." He said he expected to be back at what he called "full working strength" soon. Yastrzhembsky said Yeltsin was in a cheerful mood before the operation, joking with his doctors.
Mid-way through the surgery a group of American and German specialists, led by U.S. heart specialist Michael Debakey, arrived at the cardiology center to observe the operation on close circuit television monitors. Debakey has acted as an advisor to the team of 12 Russian heart specialists, led by Dr. Renat Akchurin, who conducted the surgery.
Chernomyrdin and presidential chief of staff Anatoly Chubais also visited the cardiology center.
Yeltsin's surgery coincided with a major nation-wide strike called by trade union leaders to protest unpaid wages. Although these work stoppages disrupted economic life, the country appeared calm.
In the early afternoon, Yastrzhembsky announced that the surgery had ended successfully. Akchurin and Debakey held subsequently a joint news conference to confirm that. Debakey praised the Russian heart surgeons who carried out the operation and said its success was in part due to effective preparation period. Yeltsin spent six weeks preparing for the operation.
Akchurin told reporters that the surgery had gone better than expected. But he suggested that Yeltsin's heart condition had been worse than he thought and said there had been "more than three or four blockages" in the arteries.
He went on to say that Yeltsin's heart now appears to be getting enough blood to function normally. Akchurin also said Yeltsin is still unconscious, breathing on a respirator. He said he expected Yeltsin to regain consciousness sometime this evening.
Both doctors said the post-operative period is very important for heart patients. Two German specialists in post-operative care are advising Yeltsin's doctors.
Akchurin said that it may take up to six days to determine how quickly and fully Yeltsin will recover. Doctors have said it could take up to two months before the Russian president is able to resume a normal working schedule.
Asked about whether he was particularly nervous operating on the Russian president, Akchurin replied: "I tried to forget it was the president, and tried to imagine it was a normal ordinary patient."
The Kremlin has said that Yeltsin will resume working soon. But it is still unclear when Chernomyrdin will sign a decree transferring his powers back to Yeltsin. The Russian constitution does not clearly define when a president is unfit to govern, or who takes that decision.