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Russia: Suspicions Of Diplomatic Indisposition Dog Yeltsin

Moscow, 17 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Prospects for a meeting of leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States this week remain uncertain. The Kremlin press-service announced today that Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who has a respiratory infection, remains at his Gorky-9 residence outside Moscow for a fourth day to recover from his illness.

The Kremlin press service announced last Friday that Yeltsin was suffering an "acute respiratory infection." The announcement came only a few days after Yeltsin said he had obtained a clean bill of health from doctors. Kremlin officials said that Yeltsin was being treated with antibiotics to cure a problem described as "laryngotracheitis."

Over the weekend, Kremlin officials said Yeltsin would return to work soon. Early this morning, Yeltsin met his representative to the Constitutional Court, Sergei Shakhrai, who told the ITAR-TASS news agency after the meeting that the president "is getting better, but has not completely recovered his voice."

However, the Director of the Kremlin's Medical Center, Sergei Mironov, has told the Interfax news agency that Yeltsin is still being treated with antibiotics today, and that doctors have recommended he "spend part of the day in bed." Mironov said that "inflammatory symptoms still persist in the rhinopharynx, as well as cough and hoarseness of the voice." Mironov said that, apart from the respiratory infection, Yeltsin is "in good form." The Kremlin said that Yeltsin's wife, Naina, had also caught a cold.

Meanwhile, a number of CIS leaders have already announced their intentions to travel to Moscow this week, to attend the CIS meeting, scheduled for Thursday.

Some Russian observers, wishing to remain anonymous, tell RFE/RL that "Yeltsin's illness may be of a diplomatic nature." The observers say Yeltsin may be considering whether he wants to participate in the CIS summit, in which he will surely have to confront, once again, a number of unsolved issues with other CIS leaders. They add that Yeltsin may not want to attend a CIS meeting, in which Russia will not have a leading and positive role, or risks attacks by other CIS heads-of-state, as during the last Summit, held in Moldova's capital, Chisinau, in the autumn of 1997.

Yeltsin two weeks ago sacked Deputy Prime Minister Valery Serov, who was in charge of overseeing CIS relations and observers said Serov's fate had been in doubt since Chisinau, as he had failed to avoid criticism of Russia from CIS leaders and had also failed to prepare Yeltsin to confront it. Serov's successor, former Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin, started his job only recently, and observers say he may not have been able to solve the pending issues in time for this CIS Summit.

The Interfax news agency reported that the presidents of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev and Askar Akayev, are planning to arrive in Moscow Wednesday, to attend a meeting of the four-country Customs Union. The Customs Union also includes Russia and Belarus.

Georgia's President Eduard Shevardnadze today (Mar. 16) angrily criticized Russia for failing to extradite Igor Giorgadze, Georgia's former security minister, who fled to Moscow after Georgian authorities accused him of having organized an attempt on Shevardnadze's life in 1995. Authorities have indicated they suspect people linked to Giorgadze of being involved also in an attack on the Georgian leader's motorcade last month.

Shevardnadze survived the attacks but, in his weekly radio address on Monday, he said he "cannot consider" his security in Moscow "fully guaranteed," adding "Russian officials have done everything to let the perpetrators of two attacks...find refuge there." In comments clearly directed at the Kremlin, Shevardnadze said "the most astounding and offending fact is that the top Russian leadership, to this day, has failed to express its opinion on the suspects.

"I don't think the Russian leadership would benefit from certain forces attempting to create for Russia the image of a nation sponsoring terrorists." But Shervardnadze concluded that he intends to attend the CIS Summit in Moscow, to "defend Georgia's interests."

It is still unclear whether Azerbaijan's President Heydar Aliyev will decide to attend the meeting. It was reported Friday that Aliyev had "yet to decide," and news agencies quoted a top official on Azerbaijan's Security Council, saying the body had advised Aliyev not to attend the CIS Summit.

Azerbaijan noted Moscow's reluctance to deal with illegal Russian weapon supplies to Armenia in recent years. They said the Kremlin has also failed to respond to Azerbaijan's requests to extradite Azerbaijan's former military Chief of Staff Shakhin Musayev, accused of plotting to organize attacks on Aliyev in 1995-96. Musayev was apparently detained in Russia last year.

Reports at the weekend said Aliyev had sent a letter to Yeltsin, to protest Russia's alleged plans to supply Armenia with missile systems. The letter alleged that the Russian and Armenian Defense Ministries had held secret talks in the first two months of this year, on plans for Russia to supply Armenia with weapons, including S-300 missile systems.

CIS Executive Secretary Ivan Korotchenya said (Mar.16) the summit "has all the chances to take place as scheduled," and added that he "thinks" that "by Thursday, Yeltsin will have fully recovered," and will chair the meeting.

Medical Center Director Mironov, quoted by Interfax news agency, has also said that for Yeltsin, "who cannot avoid stress situations" in his work, "the most important thing is to avoid loading himself with unneeded occupations, clearly plan his work-schedule, mixing correctly work and relaxation."

Any Summit meeting aimed at re-animating the moribund Commonwealth of Independent States would probably fall into Mironov's definition of "stress."

Shevardnadze's words today, as well as the possibility of difficult talks with Aliyev and other leaders, indicate that this meeting will be just as difficult for Yeltsin as the last Summit.

It seems unlikely Russia will be able to launch new initiatives, successfully asserting the dominate role in the loose coalition of 12 former Soviet republics.

A far more pleasant occasion for the ailing Russian president came Sunday evening, when Yeltsin and his family hosted a dinner at Gorky-9 for an old friend, world renowned cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who was accompanied by his opera-singer wife, Galina Vishnevskaya. She told Interfax this morning that Yeltsin "looked perfect, although coughing a bit, which is not surprising with Moscow's climate this spring."