For weeks on end, Russian President Boris Yeltsin's spokesmen have been reporting that, while he rests at a country retreat outside Moscow, he is busy working on the state-of-the-union address he must deliver soon to parliament.
But Gennady Zyuganov, the Nationalist-Communist who was Mr. Yeltsin's main rival for the presidency, said yesterday he knows for certain that Yeltsin will be too unhealthy to deliver his March 6 speech in person. "Somebody else will deliver it for him," he said. Yeltsin's office would only confirm that he will deliver the speech in early March.
Further, Mr. Zyuganov said as he prepared for a trip to the United States next week, Yeltsin's slow recovery is likely to force him to cancel his summit with President Clinton scheduled for March 21 in Helsinki. "The Yeltsin epoch is practically over," said Zyuganov in his office in the Russian Duma, or lower house of parliament.
Earlier this week, Yeltsin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said that Yeltsin was a long way from recovering from double pneumonia, although his condition was improving.
On Wednesday, Yeltsin's doctor, Renat Akchurin, said the president would need another 10 days to two weeks to recuperate. Yeltsin has been convalescing since his heart surgery in November and has been essentially out of his office since the first round of presidential elections in June.
Zyuganov is headed for the US to try to persuade Americans that they must reach beyond the the Yeltsin-led government to deal with the Nationalist-Communist bloc as well. Zyuganov himself won 40 percent of the vote in the presidential runoff election last summer, and the Communist Party he belongs to won twice as many votes in the last parliamentary election as any other party or bloc.
He claims that his bloc now controls the administrations in more than half of Russia's regions, although the Yeltsin administration makes the same claim for its own allies.
"Without our stabilizing and constructive role, there can be no improvement in the situation in Russia," he says. Zyuganov also wants to impress a fuller view of what is happening in Russia on the US, since it is the leading country in the world. He describes a country that is out of control - where millions are struggling to survive and the security of nuclear weapons is no longer certain.
A week ago, Defense Minister Igor Rodionov spoke publicly in Moscow of not being able to reach Yeltsin or Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin by direct hot line anymore.
The disarray in the armed forces is so extensive, Mr. Rodionov said, that even the security of nuclear installations could be at risk if present trends continue. But so far, Rodionov said, "everything is under control" in nuclear weapons management.
Zyuganov's message to the US is that if chaos breaks out in Russia, then it will spread outside Russia. A strong and stable Russia makes the world a safer place, he said, pointing out that many of history's great invasions of Europe crossed Russian soil - from the Tatars in the late Middle Ages, to Napoleon, to Nazi Germany.
This is a part of his argument against the eastward expansion of NATO.