Yeltsin aide offers solution to mystery

 

The mystery over why President Boris Yeltsin of Russia failed to emerge from his aircraft to greet Mr Albert Reynolds at Shannon Airport three years ago may have been solved.

Speculation at the time that the reason the then Taoiseach and his team of ministers and officials faced an embarrassing wait on the tarmac was because Mr Yeltsin had drunk too much now seems unfounded.

The explanation for his non-appearance now is that the Russian President had suffered a suspected heart attack during his flight to Ireland from Washington, and his aides had been frantically treating him, it has emerged.

Details of Mr Yeltsin's illness are given in a new book by one of the Russian President's aides.

The aide, a former bodyguard, tells how Mr Yeltsin was taken ill on board the aircraft, which made a stop-off at Shannon Airport in 1994 on its flight from Washington. This is in line with the explanation given to the Irish at the time - that the head of state was unwell and not able to meet Mr Reynolds and Mr Bertie Ahern, the present Taoiseach.

An official who was with Mr Reynolds on the day of the abandoned Yeltsin visit said: "Clearly, if what the President's former bodyguard says is true, then the position that day was more serious than we thought at the time.

"It was said that Mr Yeltsin was indisposed and many of us took that as a euphemism for the fact that he may have been drinking on the flight. If, as now seems possible, the President had suffered a heart attack or something like that, the implications were certainly more grave than we appreciated."

Mr Yeltsin's aircraft had circled Shannon for an hour before landing.

One aide later reported that members of Mr Reynolds's retinue - politicians and officials spent nearly half an hour waiting to meet Mr Yeltsin before seeing, instead, a deputy Russian prime minister - laughed about the incident as they returned to Dublin.

Another member of the Reynolds team said: "It created something of a sensation and did appear to be in line with Mr Yeltsin's sometimes unpredictable reputation.

"But this new version of what happened indicates that the explanation - that Yeltsin was `slightly indisposed' - we were provided with at the time might have been closer to the truth than anyone thought."

The fresh account is given in the book From Dawn to Sunset, by the Russian leader's former bodyguard, Alexander Korzhakov.