GENEVA - A sick Russian leader, a French president who believes in his miraculous recovery and intensified maneuvers for a new security system have plunged Europe into a state of confusion.
There are warnings against a new division of Europe into power blocs, calls for an expanded and "more European" control of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and an avalanche of speculation about the degree of Russia's disintegration.
The lightning visit Sunday by French President Jacques Chirac with Russian President Boris Yeltsin was described by a diplomatic source as "hardly more than a search for a medical bulletin."
And yet, when Mr. Chirac spoke of Mr. Yeltsin's "rapid recovery" from complicated heart bypass surgeries and two bouts with pneumonia, Europe was incredulous.
Television newscasts across Europe showed the Russian president moving with difficulty and stumbling over his greetings to the French guest, who spent three hours in Mr. Yeltsin's secluded residence at Novo Ogaryevo outside Moscow.
The trip represented France's desire to move to the forefront of efforts to reassure Russia that NATO expansion is not aimed against Moscow. Officials in Paris speak of the danger of "blockading Russia" outside the Western alliance and of the dramatically urgent need for dialogue with Moscow.
Mr. Chirac did not bring back any formal commitment and, according to one French TV channel, "was merely able to ascertain that Yeltsin is alive."
The conservative French daily Le Figaro described Mr. Yeltsin as "being capable of recovering but not of healing."
Thus, Western Europe is waiting as diplomatic pouches bring more bad news from Russia. The Russian press, which has shed 70 years of Communist shackles, is more cynical than its Western counterpart, with morbid humor and often macabre speculation. …