YELTSIN ILL, BUSINESS HEALTHY

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MOSCOW-Western marketers were unfazed last week when Russian President Boris Yeltsin was hospitalized with heart problems.

"I think now, perhaps for the first time, the economy and economic opportunity is more important than any particular politician," said Bruce Macdonald, director general of BBDO Marketing.

President Yeltsin, said Alexander Chernov, external affairs director for Coca-Cola in Russia, "is not in charge" of economic moves. The person who is, he said, is Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.

"One of the truly pleasant surprises in the past year and a half has been the new Chernomyrdin," Mr. Macdonald said of the second-in-command who heads a council charged with increasing foreign investment and has made "real progress" in the bilateral commission with U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

"Mr. Chernomyrdin in my view is clearly the much stronger person," the head of Russian operations for a large consumer products company said on condition of anonymity. "He runs most of the key elements of the economic policies."

Mr. Macdonald said Mr. Yeltsin's hospitalization for ischemia, caused when hardened arteries choke the supply of oxygen-bearing blood to the heart, had "absolutely no effect" on Western business in Russia.

Hours after President Yeltsin was rushed to the hospital, both the Kremlin and Mr. Chernomyrdin's office rushed to assure the media the president was still running the country.

The Kremlin said Mr. Yeltsin was working from his bed and was scheduled to be released and return to a "normal work schedule" today. The executive added even if the president was incapacitated for a long period of time, "I don't think it would have any effect" on his company's plans.

He indicated Western businessmen would not look askance at "an acceleration of Chernomyrdin's power" that appears likely in the event of Mr. Yeltsin's inability to rule.

"If there is one person in the government who is close to investors, it's [Mr.] Chernomyrdin," the executive said.

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