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Russians Government Continues to Hide Details of Yeltsin's Medical Problems

By David Brown and David Hoffman
The Washington Post

Boris Yeltsin has heart disease. That much and very little else - is certain about the health of the 65-year-old president of Russia.

Yeltsin's physical condition has been the subject of news reports, rumor and scandal. His five years as Russian president have been punctuated by episodes of illness, peculiar behavior and unexplained retreat from public view. The announcement last week that Yeltsin is running for re-election has revived speculation about his fitness for the job.

Yeltsin has cast himself as a bulwark against Russia's resurgent Communists and still-potent nationalists. Despite his current unpopularity, Yeltsin's power as the incumbent might well propel him into a second-stage runoff campaign this summer, most likely against the Communist Party candidate, Gennady Zyuganov. Thus, riding on Yeltsin's uncertain health could be the hopes of many Russians for an alternative to a Communist leader.

Moreover, though Yeltsin has experienced two episodes of heart trouble in less than a year, the Kremlin has gone to great lengths to hide details of his illnesses, leading to speculation in Russia and abroad that his condition is worse than has been announced. Should Yeltsin die or be impaired by health while in office, the Russian constitution provides that he would be temporarily succeeded by the prime minister, and an election would be held within three months.

Official reports say that Yeltsin suffers from coronary artery disease, the most common heart ailment - and most common cause of death - in both the United States and Russia. Almost certainly, he has had one heart attack, and possibly two.

There is even less information with which to judge other concerns about Yeltsin's health. Rumors of heavy drinking have dogged him from the start of his term, bolstered by peculiar behavior, such as his seizing a band leader's baton during a visit to Berlin in August 1994 and then attempting to lead the band himself.

Not all Yeltsin's troubles may be linked to alcohol. Observers have speculated that Yeltsin may periodically be taking painkillers and muscle relaxants for a back injury he sustained in 1990.