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Yeltsin TV Appearance Leaves Doubts : Russia: Ailing leader looks stiff. Prime minister takes some of workload.


MOSCOW — A stiff and slurring President Boris N. Yeltsin appeared on television Friday in an apparent attempt to ease growing concerns about his health and who is running Russia.

The heavily edited film footage gave the Russian public and the outside world their first look at the 64-year-old leader since he suffered a heart ailment nine days ago.

But the tape showing less than one minute of his half-hour meeting with Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin may have raised more questions than it answered.

Yeltsin's speech was slow, husky and sometimes mumbled, and he appeared to be keeping the right side of his face away from the camera. He sat stiffly in a wooden chair, dressed in a blue-and-white sports warm-up suit, in what was said to be his room at the Central Clinical Hospital.

Neither state-run Russian Public Television nor the Independent Television network explained the origin of the tape. But a Western broadcast source said it was provided by the Kremlin.


"Speaking subjectively, I don't feel too bad," a puffy-faced Yeltsin told Chernomyrdin during the lunchtime visit. It was his first meeting with any member of the Cabinet since he suffered an apparent heart attack Oct. 26.

As Chernomyrdin fidgeted in his chair, he offered unconvincing assurances to the president: "You look, well, normal."

Doctors and the shadowy Presidential Security Service have been limiting access to Yeltsin, turning away top government officials and Kremlin aides with rare exception.

Only Yeltsin's wife, Naina, and his influential security chief, Gen. Alexander V. Korzhakov, have been allowed regular visits, although chief presidential aide Viktor V. Ilyushin has been granted three short audiences to deliver papers to his boss.

Presidential spokesman Sergei K. Medvedev has said medical authorities are advising Yeltsin to remain under close supervision by doctors at least through the end of this month.

Chernomyrdin, who would become head of state if Yeltsin died or became incapacitated, told journalists after his hospital visit that he has taken some of the load off the president's shoulders.

"The president should be relieved of some of his work so that he can recover as soon as possible," Chernomyrdin said. "But, of course, we will seek the president's advice on all key questions."

Asked if the transfer of unspecified duties was made at Yeltsin's initiative, the prime minister said he had offered to assume greater responsibilities because he could "see it in his eyes" that the president wanted that.

Meanwhile, controversial rulings by the Central Elections Commission last week have spurred rumors that the presidential security entourage may be maneuvering behind the scenes to torpedo Dec. 17 parliamentary elections expected to seat a legislature that is hostile to Yeltsin.


The reform-oriented party led by Grigory A. Yavlinsky, one of the most popular political figures and a potential presidential rival to Yeltsin next year, was disqualified on a technicality by the electoral commission.

Although the disqualification of Yavlinsky's faction was seen as the result of interference by Yeltsin's protectors, it has stirred up a storm of protest and may be overturned on review by the Russian Supreme Court, which is expected to issue its ruling today.

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