Yeltsin had heart attack during Russian elections
Doctor says surgery may be too dangerous
September 21, 1996
Web posted at: 12:00 p.m.
EDT (1600 GMT)
In this story:
MOSCOW (CNN) -- President Boris Yeltsin suffered a heart
attack in late June or early July, shortly before the second
round of the Russian elections, according to the doctor who
is to perform heart surgery on the Russian president.
Dr. Renat Akchurin, the lead surgeon for Yeltsin's
upcoming heart bypass surgery, said Saturday that the
procedure may be postponed because of the risks to his
"We can postpone the operation, but ... we are trying to
go ahead with it," the doctor said.
Akchurin said he had not been involved in the treatment of
Yeltsin's health problems this summer, but based his
diagnosis on fresh scarring seen on Yeltsin's heart in recent
In an interview with ABC News televised Friday, Akchurin
said Yeltsin had withheld the information about the heart
"Can you imagine what would happen, for example, if he told
everyone he's had a heart attack and he's unable to work?"
Yeltsin virtually disappeared between the two election
rounds, causing observers to speculate that he was seriously
ill and prompting talk of a leadership vacuum at the Kremlin.
The Kremlin has explained his absences by saying he was
simply tired or was suffering from a cold.
Yeltsin's doctors Friday gave the frankest admission yet of
the president's health prospects.
Dr. Sergei Mironov, the Kremlin's chief physician, said
Yeltsin would stay in the hospital another three or four
days -- extending for the third time a pre-surgery stay that
originally was to last two days and end last weekend.
"We must understand that the person is preparing for a very
responsible and a very serious operation," Mironov told a
televised news briefing. He said the prolonged
hospitalization was meant to ensure that problems with other
organs don't complicate the surgery.
"A big and serious operation is ahead and it needs
adequately large, balanced and serious preparations, because
you all understand what is at stake."
Yeltsin announced September 5 that he would have heart
surgery at the end of the month; no date has been announced.
Mironov admitted that Yeltsin has other health problems
besides his heart, but didn't provide details.
Addressing rumors of liver problems, the physician said that
organ is always a consideration with a patient of Yeltsin's
age. He is 65. But Mironov added there are "no big problems."
He added that Yeltsin's kidneys are "functioning absolutely
Yeltsin suffers from restricted blood flow to the heart. And
Kremlin sources have told CNN that two of Yeltsin's coronary
arteries, which carry oxygenated blood to the heart, have
Often in cases of blocked heart arteries, balloon angioplasty
is performed. This means doctors insert a balloon catheter
into a femoral artery and guide it to the blood vessel or
heart valve to be treated. The balloon inflated and deflated
several times to widen the narrow section before it is
Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, who lost the election to
Yeltsin, has been a vocal critic of Yeltsin's ability to
perform his duties while in poor health. He has called for a
law requiring that the president's health be checked.
Under Russia's constitution, the prime minister would take
over if the president died or was incapacitated, and new
elections would be held within three months.
Yeltsin will hand over power to Prime Minister Viktor
Chernomyrdin while under anesthetic during the operation.
That entails temporary control over the button that could
launch a nuclear strike.
The nuclear button is not only a significant military weapon,
it is "a symbol of state power," political analyst Alexei
Pulling the nuclear trigger would involve several stages. The
president -- or in this case his prime minister -- would
receive coded information that Russia was under attack. He
would then decide whether or not to launch a nuclear
counter-attack and send those encoded orders by computer to a
designated command post.
There, a high-ranking military officer has to send on those
order with his own encoded message as part of an elaborate
system of safeguards.
To eliminate confusion, Yeltsin signed a decree outlining
exactly how his power over this nuclear system will be passed
to his prime minister and how it will be returned to him
But further decrees will be needed -- one to hand over power
and another to take it back when Yeltsin recovers from the
anesthetic. Decrees will also be issued to determine the
minute when Yeltsin hands over power during the operation.
The Interfax news agency said it was possible that Yeltsin
would hand over power for only a few hours.
A doctor's council will meet September 25 to decide the date
and details of Yeltsin's operation.
CNN Correspondent Eileen O'Connor and The Associated Press
contributed to this report.
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