Boris N. Yeltsin was hospitalized Wednesday with a viral respiratory infection that will keep the 66-year-old Russian president in bed for 10 to 12 days, aides said, an anxiety-producing announcement that quickly knocked up to 4 percent off the value of financial markets here.
“Doctors don’t rule out that it (the infection) could develop into flu,” said Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky, who noted that Yeltsin had earlier been admitted to Barvikha sanatorium, just outside Moscow, with a temperature just above normal.
His physicians “advised President Yeltsin to stick to a sanatorium regime, to stay indoors for several days, but he doesn’t have to stay in bed all the time,” Yastrzhembsky said. Yeltsin’s public engagements were canceled but he will go on working on official documents.
The Russian stock market plummeted on the news, with investors who regard Yeltsin as the sole personal guarantor of economic reform scared that his absence could further damage the country’s already turbulent finances. The drop in share values also illustrated the widespread skepticism here about how honest Yeltsin’s aides are being about the state of his health.
Last year, his aides offered dubious explanations about his health: when Yeltsin fell ill with a heart attack and blocked coronary arteries in summer; when he underwent quintuple heart-bypass surgery in the fall; and when he suffered double pneumonia in winter. Weeks of official assurances over the summer of 1996 that the president was just “tired” after winning re-election were followed in the winter by lame explanations that he had nothing worse than a “cold.”
“Even though they said (Wednesday) it was just a respiratory infection, he had a heart attack last year and they said he was just tired,” one market analyst at Troika Dialog brokerage in Moscow was quoted as saying. “So now people don’t believe what the Kremlin says about Yeltsin’s health, and they assume the worst.”
But an unnamed White House official in Washington observed: “Given the information we have, we don’t see reason for concern.” He said President Clinton wished the ussian president “a speedy recovery.”
In his last bout of illness, Yeltsin was away from work almost continuously from July 1996 until February 1997. He convalesced after the third of his three heart attacks, as well as after his bypass operation, at Barvikha, the sanatorium to which he was again admitted Wednesday.
Since spring, the headstrong, hard-drinking president has been back at work full time, reshuffling his government to bring in a strong new economic reform team, traveling widely and making weekly addresses to the nation - though looking thinner and vaguer than before his 1996 operation.
His grueling recent schedule included trips to Stockholm, Strasbourg and Beijing. Renat Akchurin, the Russian surgeon who operated on Yeltsin last November, gave him a clean bill of health a month ago, saying the president had not suffered any physical discomfort or complained of any problems.
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