Surgeons expected to decide today on Yeltsin surgery Delay or cancellation could heighten doubts, trigger power struggle


MOSCOW -- Doctors are expected to meet today with President Boris N. Yeltsin to decide whether they will go ahead and operate on the ailing Russian leader.

The consultations among Yeltsin's doctors and international experts over whether and when to operate on the 65-year-old president will determine the course of the young Russian democracy.

A postponement or cancellation of the heart surgery will have political implications that could tip the balance of Kremlin power out of Yeltin's weakened grasp and into a political free-for-all among Communists, democrats and nationalists.

Despite admissions by Yeltsin's doctors that he might be too ill after three heart attacks to undergo heart surgery, the Kremlin continued to assert yesterday that the president is able to work.

And it released television footage of the president, hunched in a chair at a hospital, in his weekly meeting yesterday with Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin.

At the same time, Yeltsin's spokesman conceded that the Kremlin leader's ability to govern is "limited" and Yeltsin has been putting in as little as 30-minute work days.

Continued uncertainty and speculation about Yeltsin's health sent the Russian stock market plunging and brought renewed Communist opposition calls for the president's resignation if he is too ill to work.

Chernomyrdin attempted to calm the situation, saying that resignation is "out of the question now."

With the Kremlin offering little of substance on Yeltsin's health, a long-planned two-day international conference on the history of cardiovascular surgery became the focal point of the nation's grasping inquiries about its president.

Between lectures and graphic big-screen slide shows of glistening human hearts in all degrees of deterioration, some of the world's most respected cardiac surgeons were mobbed by the press.

A band of 20 television cameramen never left the side of American heart surgeon Dr. Michael E. DeBakey. The 88-year-old pioneer of bypass surgery has been invited to consult with Yeltsin's surgery team in its meeting today with the president.

Medical conference leaders yesterday held a press briefing that essentially became a tug of war between a nation in the dark about its leader's condition and the distinguished American surgeon's efforts not to tip the balance of a nation's stability.

One Russian journalist's question seemed to earnestly go to the core of most Russians' concern: If a patient's heart is too damaged to withstand surgery, is that patient liable to die at any moment?

"I think I'll have to let that question go by," was the answer DeBakey gave in his elegant Louisiana drawl to nearly every question.

In Washington, President Clinton said he was not worried about instability stemming from Yeltsin's health because Russia now has "constitutional mechanisms of authority" in place.

Pub Date: 9/25/96

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