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Yeltsin Gets a Preoperative Visit From Germany's Kohl

Russia: Chancellor says later that ailing president is unlikely to relinquish power during his upcoming surgery.


MOSCOW — German Chancellor Helmut Kohl paid a chummy visit to an ailing Boris N. Yeltsin on Saturday and hinted that the Russian president is unlikely to remove himself from power during his forthcoming heart surgery and convalescence.

Kohl also used his third visit to Russia this year to reassure Yeltsin that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has no plans to expand into Eastern Europe before 1997. That should ease political pressures on the Russian leader by nationalists upset over Russian policy failures regarding NATO's move east and the war in Chechnya.

Kohl was the first person outside the Kremlin inner circle to see Yeltsin since his announcement Thursday that he will undergo coronary bypass surgery this month.

Speculation has been rampant about whether Yeltsin will hand over power to Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin during the operation and recovery period. Kohl declined to say what Yeltsin might have told him about control of the "nuclear button" during his surgery, but he appeared to doubt there will be any long-term transfer of power.

"I don't have the impression Boris Yeltsin is the kind of person who will have authority pulled out from under him," Kohl told reporters here after spending more than four hours with Yeltsin at the Zavidovo resort compound 60 miles northwest of Moscow.


Since admitting that he needs surgery, Yeltsin has been advised by many top politicians to let Chernomyrdin rule in order to avoid power plays in his absence.

But if Yeltsin refuses to loosen his hold on the Kremlin reins--even through an operation that will stop his heart--jockeying for the position of heir apparent could intensify.

As prime minister, Chernomyrdin would be the constitutionally designated successor in the event Yeltsin died or became unfit to rule. But newly appointed security chief Alexander I. Lebed has made no secret of his presidential ambitions, and his popularity after the recent Chechen peace settlement vastly outstrips Chernomyrdin's.

Communist Party leader Gennady A. Zyuganov has also used Yeltsin's illness to suggest that any succession struggle could destabilize the country.

"We must do everything so that the law triumphs, and not viziers who may use the president's ailment for their own selfish ends," Zyuganov said Friday, calling for an emergency government and parliamentary meeting to discuss Yeltsin's health.

Video footage of Kohl's helicopter departure from Zavidovo taken by Kremlin press aides showed a puffy Yeltsin standing as stiffly as a mannequin and waving weakly. No independent media were allowed to witness any part of the meeting.

The isolation of the mini-summit enhanced the widely held impression that Yeltsin has been physically incapacitated by the myocardial ischemia he suffers, a shortage of blood supply to the heart.

Yeltsin and Kohl were reported by the quasi-official Itar-Tass news agency to have taken a stroll together, but there was no corroborating videotape of the event, which Tass said it had been told about by the presidential press service.

State television sought to cast the meeting as a cordial one between two old friends, noting that Kohl is the only foreign leader invited to address the president in the informal manner available in both the Russian and German languages.

During his brief address to journalists before leaving Moscow, Kohl praised the agreement to end 21 months of fighting in secessionist Chechnya.

Yeltsin also reportedly gave his strongest endorsement to date of the pact negotiated by Lebed, which calls for a pullout of Russian forces and settlement of the Chechen independence question in five years. The president had earlier said he was resistant to a full pullout.

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