Russians Monday caught their first glimpse in four days of President Boris N. Yeltsin, whose expressionless and puffy face during a prerecorded television speech did little to allay concerns about his health in advance of Wednesday’s runoff election.
Aides continued to insist that Yeltsin is simply tired, has a cold and had skipped campaign appearances over the past week - including a treaty-signing summit with the presidents of Ukraine and Moldova - only because he had lost his voice from the high-energy campaign.
But 52-year-old Communist challenger Gennady Zyuganov repeated his daily charge that Yeltsin, 65, is too old and too ill to carry on.
Zyuganov also took care to have himself photographed this week dancing at a disco and leaping around a volleyball court.
The televised Yeltsin was ashen and ailing, a pale shadow of the buoyant, boogying Yeltsin of the past few months, who campaigned with a vigor that surprised not only his critics but his supporters as well.
Yeltsin remains ahead of Zyuganov in all the polls, partly because the majority of Russian voters appears to prefer a sick reformer to a vigorous Communist.