Boris Yeltsin, who ran Russia on half a heart, at last puts his fate in the hands of surgeons

Crucial decision in next few days as team gambles on whether to take president off respirator

Boris Yeltsin has entered a critical 48-hour period when surgeons will get a clearer idea of the success of the multiple heart bypass operation on which his presidency, and the future of Russia, depends.

Doctors will today decide whether they can take him off a respirator following the seven-hour operation, during which they stopped the President's heart for 68 minutes. Then comes another crucial moment - discovering if he can control his own breathing.

Five hours after the the operation the President, 65, recovered consciousness and opened his eyes, said Yevgeny Chazov, who for years treated Leonid Brezhnev. The announcement came after a day in which, for the first time, the world was given information about a complex operation on a Russian leader, and heard from surgeons who worked on the organ that has obsessed so many for so long.

Renat Akchurin, head of the 12-strong team, said the operation had gone well but a US surgeon who was present said it involved five bypasses, more than had been thought neccessary. Professor George Noon told Reuters: "The vessels that were diseased were bypassed and it ended up with the number five." He said that a couple of Yeltsin's arteries had sections which were completely blocked.

Mr Yeltsin still faces the very important stage of post-operative treatment. The first few days after a coronary bypass are critical, as they establish whether any damage to other organs has been inflicted during surgery. But Dr Akchurin said that, "touch wood", Mr Yeltsin may decide to sign a decree today or tomorrow taking back the powers he temporarily transferred to his Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin.

Michael DeBakey, the American cardiologist who led US and German advisers, said the operation was a "complete success" and predicted Mr Yeltsin would be able to perform his duties in a "perfectly normal fashion". He may be active long after his second term expires in 2000 - most studies show almost three-quarters of bypass patients are leading a normal life 10-15 years after the operation, said the surgeon.

For Mr Yeltsin's government and supporters in the West, the operation was not before time. It followed 15 months in which he had two and probably three, heart attacks. In his absence, his entourage jockeyed for power, while the country was buffeted by political and financial crises. Yesterday saw evidence of that when hundreds of thousands took to the streets for a day of strikes and rallies, largely over wage arrears.

But it will be some time before Mr Yeltsin can tackle these issues. Although Dr Akchurin said he may be able to begin work as soon as next week, he will be, at best, a part-time president until Christmas.

The first sign that the operation was pending came early yesterday, when the President's motorcade left the sanatorium where he was staying and headed for the Moscow Cardiological Centre.

It was exactly two months after he confirmed to television viewers what had long been suspected: he had heart disease and needed surgery. Doctors later diagnosed one blocked and three partially blocked arteries.

His surgeons said they decided to go ahead when he was in "optimum" condition - rid of early problems with an over-active thyroid, internal bleeding and anaemia. But its timing, on the day of the US election, was stage- managed, as was media coverage. The surgeons' conference was restricted to what aides called a "golden group" of 100 correspondents, a fraction of those in Moscow.

To the indignation of the President's staff, the world was denied news of the start of the operation for 30 minutes, because Russian agencies distrusted the initial announcement and wanted to check. But the operation's progress was then reported by Russian media throughout the day.

Mr Yeltsin's spokesman said he joked with doctors as he went into the operating theatre. But last night, as they awaited the outcome, their mood was more subdued. A number of critical questions remain. For instance, has the operation caused any brain damage? Such issues will be preying on the mind of Mr Yeltsin's wife, Naina: "Pray God that it will work out okay," she said after the operation.

She was, she said, "very worried, of course".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future