Boris Yeltsin will deliver his state of the union address today as a president waging an unpopular war and battling persistent doubts both at home and abroad about his fitness for office.
His popularity is at an all-time low, and his once-heroic image as a democrat has been badly tarnished by the bloodshed in Chechnya. Even reformers have distanced themselves from the man who launched Russian reforms three years ago.
Yeltsin delayed his address before parliament twice, apparently waiting until his soldiers gained the upper hand in the breakaway Chechen republic in southern Russia.
Now, Yeltsin will seek to reassure erstwhile allies by emphasizing his commitment to reforms and promising to hold presidential and parliamentary elections as scheduled.
But, in a nod to Russian nationalists, Yeltsin is expected to take a tougher line with the West, especially with those who urge a more cautious approach to relations with Russia.
Much of his speech to the rare joint session of parliament will be devoted to the fighting in Chechnya, and he reportedly planned to criticize his military leaders for their botched handling of the war. His speech in the Kremlin’s Marble Hall will be televised live throughout Russia.
Few predicted any dramatic announcements.
“I don’t expect anything from the president’s address because I haven’t expected anything from the president in a long time,” said Viktor Ilyukhin, a Communist deputy and chairman of the State Duma’s Security Committee.
Most lawmakers said they would wait and see what the president has to say. Many will be waiting to see simply how he walks to the microphone after renewed questions about his health and drinking habits were raised recently.