"The Kremlin is reaching hard for medical terms that nobody quite understands to tell us that Yeltsin is tired and perhaps depressed," says TIME Moscow correspondent Andrew Meier. "But as long as he's still breathing, much of the political establishment wants to keep him in office because they're not yet ready to fight elections." And, of course, the ailing president has his own reasons for hanging on: "Yeltsin needs legal immunity for himself and his family and he wants a nice retirement package," says Meier. So expect 18 more months of an increasingly withdrawn president becoming marginal to the running of Russia's government -- and the probability that those medical dictionaries will be well-thumbed by the end of his term.
Moscow's media corps scrambled for its medical dictionaries Tuesday, in search of the meaning of "asthenic." That was the term chosen by the Kremlin to describe Boris Yeltsin's condition, in explaining why he's canceled all travel plans and checked in to a sanatorium for two weeks. He's already taken 47 vacation days this year.