| Boris Yeltsin
Moscow, April 23 (Agencies): Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who buried the Soviet Union and led Russia through its chaotic first years of independence, died on Monday. He was 76.
“Today, at 15.45 (5.15 pm IST) Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin died in the Central Clinical Hospital as a result of a deteriorating cardio-vascular problem,” said a Kremlin spokesperson.
Many Russians initially viewed Yeltsin as a hero for dismantling communist rule. His finest hour came when, in 1991, he clambered onto a tank and raised his fist in defiance of hardline coup plotters who wanted to turn back the clock.
But his economic “shock therapy” cast millions into poverty and his last years in office were marked by chaos, erratic behaviour combined with persistent reports of drunkenness, and bloody conflict with Chechen rebels.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet President, summed up the complexity of Yeltsin’s political life in a condolence statement minutes after the death was announced. He referred to Yeltsin as one “on whose shoulders are both great deeds for the country and serious errors”.
“A tragic fate,” added Gorbachev, who had bitter relations with Yeltsin in his lifetime.
President Vladimir Putin, whom Yeltsin anointed as his heir before stepping down in the last hours of 1999, telephoned his widow and expressed his “deepest condolences”, the Kremlin said.
The chaos Putin inherited from Yeltsin created widespread disillusionment with democracy that later allowed the current President, backed by most Russians, to roll back many of Yeltsin’s reforms.
Yeltsin had for years been dogged by heart problems that required multiple heart bypass surgery while he was still in office. His deteriorating health ultimately forced him to step aside in favour of Putin.
US defence secretary Robert Gates, in Moscow for talks with Putin, said Yeltsin was an important figure. “No American at least will forget seeing him standing on the tank outside of the White House resisting a coup attempt.”
Yeltsin ruled Russia from 1991 to the last day of 1999, when he handed over power to Putin. He had the distinction of becoming the first Russian leader to step down voluntarily.
Many of Yeltsin’s contemporaries in the democracy movement alleged Putin had betrayed Yeltsin’s legacy by dismantling democracy, but once in retirement he never returned to public politics.