MOSCOW -- Asked about the health of President Boris N. Yeltsin, his chief of staff, Anatoly Chubais, admitted yesterday that there was a problem.
Yeltsin, he said, was fine. But Chubais conceded that the Kremlin had mishandled growing skepticism about the 65-year-old president's condition. He refused to describe Yeltsin's symptoms, but promised that a "new information policy" would be unveiled in the next few days. "The less official information there is," he said, "the more rumors, conjectures and speculations there are."
Under mounting criticism and suspicion, the Kremlin is struggling to find a way to defuse an issue that is overshadowing Yeltsin's presidency without divulging the exact nature of his illness.
Yeltsin, who was hospitalized twice last year for heart trouble and all but vanished from view a few days before the election, has not appeared in public since he took the oath of office Aug. 9, looking ill and unsteady.
While the president's aides maintain that Yeltsin is merely tired and on vacation, the rest of the world assumes he is very sick.
The Kremlin acknowledged last year that Yeltsin suffers from myocardial ischemia, a shortage of oxygen to the heart muscle due to narrowed arteries. A Kremlin aide who conceded privately that Yeltsin would benefit from bypass surgery said yesterday that Yeltsin's doctors recently assured him that he did not need it.
Yeltsin aides complain privately that it is the president who refuses to allow public discussion of his health and rebuffs their efforts to shed light on his condition. Chubais said he, too, had tried to persuade the president to meet with him -- and reporters -- to quash the growing rumors.
"The president asked me, 'Did we bother you when you were on vacation?' " said Chubais, who returned to work Friday. "After that, I couldn't bring myself to insist."
Yeltsin's aides say the president is expected to meet Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany on Saturday for an unofficial visit. Diplomats say Kohl is flying to Moscow partly to check the president's health.
In Parliament, there has been almost no comment about Yeltsin's disappearance.
"It would be brutal to grandstand now when the man is so ill," said one parliamentary aide. "Everybody knows the president is very sick." He said even the Communists were holding back. "They want to keep quiet and wait for their moment. Soon enough, he will either be completely incapacitated or he will die."
Pub Date: 9/05/96