Russia on Hold

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MOSCOW: "Russia's government is a presidential system created by Yeltsin, for Yeltsin," says TIME's Moscow bureau chief Paul Quinn-Judge. Lately, that system has broken down, stalled by Boris Yeltsin's fading health. Sidelined by heart trouble and a recent case of pneumonia, Yeltsin has been able to work very little since winning re-election last July. Yeltsin has been convalescing in Moscow's Central Clinical Hospital for a week now, and his doctors now say he will remain hospitalized at least through the end of this week. In his absence, Communist Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin, backed by ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, has spearheaded a movement in the Russian Parliament to impeach Yeltsin due to ill health. It's a somewhat empty gesture, since under complex constitutional rules that Yeltsin rammed through in 1993, the Duma is not likely to impeach, and Yeltsin can dissolve the body at any time. But the vote movement reflects the increasing frustration of a country facing enormous economic and social woes, where everything is put on hold waiting for Yeltsin either to govern in his previous forceful manner or step aside. "The basic stuff gets done," says Quinn-Judge, "but no major initiatives have been implemented." The economy continued to shrink in 1996 and the Kremlin's bold tax-collection initiative has run out of steam. Yeltsin has been utterly unable to keep his promise to pay the back salaries due state employees ranging from teachers to coal miners. While his aides are saying the president could return to his desk as early as January 28, "That is very much a hope rather than an assumption they are making," says Quinn-Judge.