Nervously Watching Boris

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MOSCOW: Boris Yeltsin's bout of pneumonia may be nothing more than what his press aides claim: an illness that will be gone in a week or two, a mere worsening of the flu that has gripped 64,000 Muscovites during this frigid winter. But as TIME Moscow bureau chief Paul Quinn-Judge notes, the latest medical emergency only underlines a sobering reality, that the Boris Yeltsin of today is a pale shadow of the dynamic leader of 1992. While Yeltsin continues to represent stability in Russia to his supporters at home and admirers abroad, the vigorous President Yeltsin they support is no longer evident. After Yeltsin's re-election in July, everyone hoped for the return of the man who was bold, decisive and committed to sweeping change. Now, some presidential aides have come to refer to their diminished leader as Yeltsin Number Two, says Quinn-Judge. "It was the second Yeltsin, whose indecision and inactivity throughout 1994 and 1995, who has left Russia adrift." And these days are no better: the government is largely run either by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin or presidential chief of staff Anatoly Chubais, leaving the largest country in the world on hold. Economic growth remains negative, while millions of people are still without their government pensions or pay. Until Yeltsin either steps down or passes away, Russia will likely continue its directionless drift.