News reports tell of Russian President Boris Yeltsin being rushed Thursday to a Moscow hospital following severe pains that doctors say are related to his heart disease, which they have been treating for the past three months.
This is the second time Yeltsin has been hospitalized for his heart condition, and although some in the Kremlin suggest there is no cause for alarm, Yeltsin's top aide, Viktor Ilyushin, is reported to have said, "There is no reason for great optimism over the state of the president's health. It is hardly possible that he will be able to start working in the nearest future."
This comes just after Yeltsin finished meetings with President Clinton on joint U.S.-Russian efforts in the Bosnia peace process and just before a scheduled Nov. 7 trip in which the Russian leader was to meet with Chinese leaders.
Yeltsin had planned to host a meeting on Monday or Tuesday in Moscow of various leaders involved in the Bosnia peace talks. General agreements on the multinational effort supposedly were worked out last week between Clinton and Yeltsin for a NATO alliance to send 60,000 troops, including approximately 20,000 Americans, to Bosnia-Herzegovina if there is a peace agreement among the warring parties. A real sticking point is the decision to have all troops under the control of NATO, but nothing has been said about the question of U.S. troops being under the command of a foreign officer.
Secretary of Defense William Perry and Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev were scheduled to try to iron out more potential conflicts in this agreement Friday when they visited Fort Riley to observe a joint U.S.-Russian military exercise.
But back in Moscow, the chances for Yeltsin being re-elected president appear to be growing dimmer, month by month. Most news reports suggest there is a strong and growing sentiment favoring nationalism in Russia and that Communist and anti-Western candidates are likely to score big wins in the Dec. 17 parliamentary elections.
U.S. officials are quick to say Yeltsin has been very helpful in the Bosnia peace proposal, and another official said, "to get the cooperation of Russia on the Bosnia peace process, we need Yeltsin."
Now Yeltsin is seriously ill. Communists and anti-Western candidates are opposed to many of Yeltsin's plans and policies and are likely to gain greater control of the Russian parliament. Few knowledgeable observers give Yeltsin much chance of winning the June presidential election.
This is not a comfortable situation for the U.S. or for other Western nations. As former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union Jack Matlock said, struggles related to NATO, Bosnia and Yeltsin's health can "lead to pressures for Russia to pull within," threatening democratic government in Russia.
Adding to the problem is the Clinton Administration's policy of giving almost total support to Yeltsin over the past several years. Various would-be Russian leaders have been shut out, and they have made it known they are angry and upset by this effort by U.S. officials to shun or give a cold shoulder to other aspiring Russian leaders.
When most knowledgeable Soviet/Russian observers claim there is little chance of Yeltsin being re-elected, why does Clinton continue to give a total endorsement to the 64-year-old Yeltsin? Why not try to cultivate other meaningful relationships within Russia and the powerful leaders in their parliament?
Now that Yeltsin has been rushed to a hospital, some in the White House are trying to suggest there isn't any need for concern about the U.S. placing too much confidence in Yeltsin. They claim Vice President Gore has been developing good relations with Yeltsin's "second in command," Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. White House spokesmen say they have a very good relationship with Chernomyrdin and they have high respect for him. They claim Vice President Gore has been working on strengthening this relationship and that the prime minister is considered steady and a supporter of economic reform.
If Yeltsin is in serious trouble and is not expected to be able to win another term as president, is there any reason to believe his "second in command" could be elected?
It should be remembered that both Clinton and Yeltsin are engaged in re-election efforts. Clinton's chances of winning another four years in the White House appear far better than Yeltsin's chances for another term as president of Russia.
Maybe Clinton thinks that by giving Yeltsin such exclusive support, he is doing what he can to help the Russian leader remain in office. Maybe he thinks a show of U.S. support is essential if the moderate leader is to be able to move Russia to a more cooperative relationship with the U.S. and other NATO powers.
It's a gamble, however, in that by excluding many other would-be Russian leaders and refusing to meet with them when Clinton or other high-powered officials are in Moscow, there is the good chance these potential successors to Yeltsin will develop an even stronger negative feeling toward the U.S.
Also, Clinton would appear to be creating some problems for himself by giving such strong support to Yeltsin. The Russian leader may be out of office within a short time, and Communists are regaining a more powerful position in Russia. How will U.S. voters look upon such a flawed foreign policy?
Yeltsin's health should be of major concern to the U.S., and U.S. leaders should have been giving much more attention and respect to other Russian political leaders.