In The News: Boris Yeltsin - Immortal - for the time being at least

"YELTSIN is like a cat, he has nine lives," a Russian equities trader commented yesterday when the markets dipped on the news that once again the 67-year-old Kremlin leader was ill. The stock exchange is sensitive to such matters. National television was less excited, leading its news bulletins with the latest on the expulsion of Russian diplomats from Norway. The man in the street shrugged his shoulders, sure that the President would soon be back.

Mr Yeltsin, who had his finest hour atop a tank resisting a hardline coup attempt in 1991, thrives on situations where he has to fight. He is not a man to let mere illness get him down.

And we can only hope that the relative glasnost of post-Communist Russia is our guarantee that when we are told officially he has "acute laryngotracheitis", he really does have a sore throat or something similiar and not some life- threatening illness. Leonid Brezhnev, after all, was still described as having a cold when he lay on his death bed.

Still, since he underwent a heart bypass operation in November 1996, the Russian President's health has been a cause for worry throughout the world. Under pressure from the press, Mr Yeltsin has had to learn to be more honest about it.

He first disappeared into hospital without any explanation after Mikhail Gorbachev, then leader of the Soviet Union, sacked him from the ruling Communist Party Politburo in 1987. In retrospect, it seems this shock may have marked the start of his heart problems. But Mr Gorbachev unwittingly helped his career by making him a martyr and, when he came out of hospital, he went on to become the most popular opposition politician in Russia. He was elected Russian President in June 1991 and took over from Mr Gorbachev as Kremlin leader when the Soviet Union collapsed later that year.

The heavy-drinking Yeltsin tried to keep fit by playing tennis. But heart problems continued to dog him, bursting out into the open just after he had won a second term as Russian President in the summer of 1996. At first, as yesterday, aides said he had a sore throat; but his continued absence from public view so soon after he had won a stunning election victory against all the odds looked suspicious. Soon ,they were forced to admit that the blood supply to his heart was deficient.

Mr Yelsin then came clean to the Russian people himself, saying the life of an invalid was not for him and he had decided to undergo a heart bypass, a relatively routine operation in the West, so that he could return to politics with renewed vigour.

The operation, carried out by a team of Russian doctors with the Texas heart specialist Michael De Bakey hovering in the background, was described in surprising detail to the press. Dr De Bakey declared Mr Yeltsin's operation a complete success, saying it would give him 10 more years of life if he controlled his drinking and resisted his favourite fatty foods, such as Russian sausage. But unfortunately, straight after the operation, the Kremlin leader caught a cold and fell ill with pneumonia in the freezing January of 1997. His return to politics was delayed until last spring.

Since then he has been active both on the international stage and at home. He takes more holidays than a younger leader might do - his fishing and skiing trips are televised to assure us of his continuing robustness. He is clearly ageing, and yet, though his enemies say it, he is not like Brezhnev, just a corpse being propped up for show. He is still mentally alert and, when the spadework has been done by his underlings, he is still the man who takes the ultimate decisions.

BORIS AND THE BOTTLE

Does Boris Yeltsin drink? Is the Pope a Catholic? Before he underwent heart surgery in November 1996, it would hardly have occurred to vodka- loving Russians to doubt that their President drank. They would not have respected him if he had abstained. Does Boris Yeltsin drink now? There is no real evidence of any hard drinking nowadays.

DADDY'S LITTLE GIRL

Whether Mr Yeltsin retires with dignity or tries to extend what his enemies call his "Tsar-like rule" into the next century may depend on the advice he receives from his eldest daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko. He trusts her so much that last year he made her an official presidential aide, responsible for his image. Tatyana, 38, a former rocket scientist, apparently plays a stronger role behind the throne than Mr Yeltsin's wife, Naina, who is said to like baking cakes and looking after the grandchildren.

WHAT NEXT?

The great constitutional question of the moment is not who would replace Mr Yeltsin in the immediate aftermath of his death, but rather, could Mr Yeltsin stand for a third term as President? Recently he commented that the best guarantee of good relations between Moscow and Kiev was not to change the presidents of Russia and Ukraine.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Taste the difference: Nell Frizzell tucks into a fry-up in Jesse's cafe in east London
food + drinkHow a bike accident left one woman living in a distorted world in which spices smell of old socks and muesli tastes like pork fat
Sport
Luke Shaw’s performance in the derby will be key to how his Manchester United side get on
footballIt's not a game to lose, writes Paul Scholes
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
filmThis Halloween, we ask what makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?
News
peopleFarage challenges 'liberally biased' comedians to 'call him a narcissist'
Arts and Entertainment
Liam and Zayn of One Direction play with a chimpanzee on the set of their new video for 'Steal My Girl'
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Support Worker Vacancies

£60 - £65 per hour + plus free travel scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: Yout...

Newly Qualified Teachers - Primary, Cardiff

£95 - £105 per day + plus free travel scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: NEWL...

Teaching Assistant

£60 - £65 per day + plus free travel scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: Teach...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel you sales role is li...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes