Yeltsin Is Admitted to HospitalBy David Hoffman
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 11 1997; Page A01
President Boris Yeltsin was hospitalized today at a sanitarium outside Moscow. Two sources said Yeltsin has suffered another bout of heart trouble. Yeltsin's spokesman announced that the president is suffering an acute respiratory infection stemming from a cold.
"It's really very serious," one of the sources said. "It's really the heart."
The source said he could not provide details on Yeltsin's condition, but he noted that Yeltsin's heart surgeon, Renat Akchurin, who performed a quintuple bypass operation on Yeltsin last year, was at the president's side.
Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the presidential press secretary, announced that Yeltsin, 66, was taken this morning from his residence to Barvikha, a secluded rest home in a wooded area outside Moscow that has a clinic. When Yeltsin suffered a heart attack in the summer of 1996, he was also secluded at Barvikha. At the time, aides said initially that he was suffering from a cold. Today, a spokesman said there are no plans to transfer Yeltsin to the Central Clinical Hospital, the main hospital used to treat the president.
In Washington, U.S. officials played down the reports from Moscow, the Reuters news service reported. A White House official traveling with President Clinton in New York told reporters who asked about Yeltsin's health: "Given the information we have, we don't see reason for concern." The official added that the White House had no reason to believe it did not have "the full story" on the illness.
Yastrzhembsky said Yeltsin will remain at Barvikha for 10 to 12 days under the care of physicians, who have not excluded the possibility Yeltsin has influenza. He said the president's temperature was slightly higher than normal, and he promised to make daily reports on his condition.
Yeltsin underwent bypass surgery on Nov. 5, of last year, after a long period in which the Kremlin concealed his deteriorating medical condition. At one point, when Yeltsin had suffered a heart attack between the two rounds of the 1996 presidential election, the Kremlin released a videotape of him that had been heavily altered because he could not finish a sentence.
During the Soviet era, health problems of Kremlin leaders were often kept secret for years, but Yeltsin seemed to make a break with the past when he personally announced his decision to go ahead with the bypass.
Yastrzhembsky said that the first signs of Yeltsin's illness were noticed while he was on an official visit to Sweden last week. During that trip, Yeltsin appeared to make several statements about military policy that his aides moved quickly to modify.
Alexei Venediktov, political commentator for Echo Moscow radio, said journalists accompanying Yeltsin in Sweden noticed that "the president was not looking well" and "that everything was far from all right."
"We kept asking those around the president . . . `Is his health all right?' " Venediktov said in a broadcast today. Among those who were asked, he said, was Akchurin, the surgeon, who accompanied Yeltsin on the trip. He said Akchurin replied: "As far as I am concerned, he is all right."
One of the two sources who mentioned heart trouble, a diplomat, said it appeared Yeltsin had suffered a heart attack "or something close to it." The source had no further information but said it appeared Yeltsin was far more seriously ill than the Kremlin announcement suggested.
The second source, who is close to the government, said also that the outlook on the president's condition is very serious and that Yeltsin is suffering from more than just a cold. He said the information about the president's health is being kept "secret."
A third official, a Western diplomat, said Yeltsin conducted some phone conversations after being taken to Barvikha, which would suggest he was not incapacitated. But, this source said, the extent of his illness is not clear.
The Kremlin said Yeltsin has postponed plans to attend a "round table" Thursday with other Russian political leaders, including Communist Party members, to discuss long-standing differences over whether Russia should allow private ownership and sale of land.
Yeltsin also canceled plans to attend ceremonies on Friday to commemorate the adoption of the 1993 Russian Constitution; he was to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. However, Yastrzhembsky said Yeltsin plans to record a radio address for broadcast that day.
He said further that the president intends to vote in Moscow municipal council elections Sunday, but it was not clear if Yeltsin would return home or vote at a polling station near Barvikha. In addition, Yeltsin has put off earlier plans, touted by the Kremlin, to conduct a televised dressing-down of his cabinet ministers on economic issues. Yastrzhembsky said Yeltsin is not required to stay in bed but must remain indoors and can continue to work and use the telephone.
News of the hospitalization sent jitters through political and financial circles in the capital; while some Russian corporate and state bond issues fell, the ruble remained stable. Russia has been on edge since the global stock market plunge in late October because of an exodus of foreign investment capital and a loss of confidence in Russia as an emerging market. The Moscow stock index has lost 40 percent of its value since its October peak, but officials have said in recent days that the economy and currency appear to have stabilized and that stocks were looking more attractive.
Yeltsin's bouts with heart trouble over the past few years often removed him completely from the political scene, and another prolonged absence would generate further uncertainty about Russia's course. Since his recovery from pneumonia in the spring, he has had a vigorous year, heading a second-term revival of his reform program and traveling abroad.
Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist Party leader whom Yeltsin defeated for the presidency in 1996, told reporters: "No one can guarantee that you won't catch a cold tomorrow. As regards the health of the president, you yourselves know that it's not in the best shape. Everyone knows that."
Staff writer David Brown reported from Washington:
Michael E. DeBakey, the American heart surgeon who has served as a consultant to Yeltsin's physicians, said he doubts the Russian president is suffering heart problems. However, he said he has had no contact with Yeltsin's doctors since the president's current illness was announced.
Yeltsin has had no chest pain or other cardiac complications since he underwent coronary artery bypass surgery in 1996, DeBakey said by telephone from his office at the Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston. The president was in excellent health when DeBakey last saw him three months ago, he said, and Yeltsin's surgeon, Akchurin, reported no problems when the two doctors spoke three weeks ago.
"The other reason that I don't believe it's a heart problem is that if it were, he's not in the right place to be treated," DeBakey said.
The rehabilitation center where Yeltsin is staying is a good place to get rest, DeBakey said, but is ill-equipped to handle a person with a heart attack, unstable angina or other serious cardiac conditions.
"I have to assume it's an upper respiratory condition, as they are reporting," he said.
DeBakey said that since the bypass surgery, Yeltsin has lost 30 pounds and become much more physically active. He has undergone several treadmill exercise tests, none of which caused chest pain or showed other evidence of heart problems, DeBakey said, adding: "When I saw him, he was in really good shape, good muscular condition, and in good spirits."