News of Yeltsin's Death Stirs Mixed Feelings in Russia

( LatWp ) - Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who died Monday of heart failure, will be buried Wednesday in the history-rich clay of Moscow's Novodevichy Cemetery, where elites of the Soviet Union and Russia, poets and politicians, scientists and spies, have traditionally been laid to rest.

President Vladimir Putin declared Wednesday a national day of mourning. But there was little sign of spontaneous grief over the former president's passing at age 76. Russia is deeply ambivalent about the legacy of Yeltsin, the country's first post-communist leader, who ushered in democracy but struggled to contain the chaos it first engendered.

``We will do everything so that the memory of Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin, his noble thoughts, and his words 'protect Russia' always serve us as moral and political guidelines,'' Putin said in a statement. ``A man passed away, thanks to whom a whole new epoch was born. A new democratic Russia was born, a free state open to the world, a state in which power truly belongs to the people.''

Despite the fond farewell, much of Yeltsin's Russia has been systematically dismantled by his successor. A boisterous, competitive, developing democracy with a crusading press has withered as the Kremlin has reined in parliament, taken control of broadcast outlets and weakened dissent to the point of extinction.

Yeltsin will not be buried in the Kremlin, the final resting place of most leaders of the Soviet Union. It was unclear whether that was a political statement by Putin's office or followed the wishes of the late president.

Revered by supporters in Russia and abroad as a bearish, sometimes unsteady but ultimately courageous man who had felled the Soviet Union and fathered a new Russian democracy, Yeltsin is widely seen here as a drunk who brought Russia and its people to their knees while the country was looted by his businessmen buddies.

He is also faulted here for the bloody humiliation of the Russian military in the breakaway republic of Chechnya and for Russia's perceived subservience abroad because of its lost superpower status.

``I hated him,'' said Igor Zhurkov, a 45-year-old construction worker. ``The country was in total chaos under Yeltsin. Everything was stolen from the people, who were turned into beggars.''

Yeltsin's battered image, trapped in the poverty of the 1990s, is not helped by the contrasts with today's much more prosperous Russia and with his successor, the sober and self-confident Putin.

But for all the derision, there were glimmers after Yeltsin's death Monday of a larger legacy that may ultimately be celebrated here.

``He made a lot of mistakes, of course, but he did change this country,'' said Valentina Surikova, 61, a retired doctor. ``We could breathe freer than we do now.''

International condolences, which poured into Russia, almost universally emphasized Yeltsin's democratic legacy.

``President Yeltsin was an historic figure who served his country during a time of momentous change,'' President Bush said in a statement that offered condolences to the Yeltsin family. ``He played a key role as the Soviet Union dissolved, helped lay the foundations of freedom in Russia, and became the first democratically elected leader in that country's history. I appreciate the efforts that President Yeltsin made to build a strong relationship between Russia and the United States.''

Yeltsin defined himself for the ages when he climbed onto a tank in August 1991 and beat back an attempted coup by hard-liners against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who was loosening the Communist's Party's grip on power. By the end of that momentous year, the Soviet Union was no more, Gorbachev was sidelined, and Yeltsin, the first elected president of Russia, seemed to hold history in his fist.

The leaders of some of the former Soviet republics, now independent countries, were among the most effusive in their praise of him Monday. ``I remember with gratitude Yeltsin's role in the peaceful reconstruction of Estonian independence in 1991, and his contribution to the removal of Russian troops from Estonia in 1994,'' Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said in a letter to Russia's leaders.

But the marginalized Gorbachev resented Yeltsin deeply, a fact that again seeped out Monday. ``I express my deepest condolences to the family of the deceased, on whose shoulders lie many achievements in the service of the country, and serious mistakes,'' Gorbachev said in a statement.

When Yeltsin resigned on New Year's Eve 1999, turning over the presidency to his prime minister, the then little-known Putin, he acknowledged the shortcomings of his years in office.

``I want to ask your forgiveness for not fulfilling some hopes of those who believed that ... in one go ... we would be able to jump from a gray, stagnating totalitarian past into a bright, rich, civilized future,'' said Yeltsin, who by then was a weary, puffy-faced shadow of the firebrand of 1991. ``I believed in this myself. It didn't happen in one jump.''

His declining health and alcohol-fueled gaffes, particularly abroad, were a source of acute embarrassment for many Russians, who saw in them a mirror of the country's weakness. In particular, Yeltsin's apparent acquiescence to the NATO alliance's expansion eastward and his inability to do anything about NATO's bombing of Serbia in 1999 poisoned attitudes toward the West.

Russia's new assertiveness, seen recently in Putin's lambasting of the U.S. global role at a conference in Germany, is a stark and welcome change for many Russians.

Yeltsin disappeared from public life after leaving office and was largely silent on Putin's record. The two occasionally met, and last year Putin hosted a 75th birthday party for Yeltsin at the Kremlin.

Over the past six years, the Kremlin's centralization of power, its re-nationalization of strategic industries, particularly the country's natural resources, and its squeezing of political freedom have been justified here as necessary antidotes to the chaos of the Yeltsin years.

Buoyed by soaring prices for oil and natural gas, Russia under Putin has enjoyed the kind of economic boom and fiscal stability that Yeltsin could never have imagined. The president's approval ratings stand at 80 percent, while Yeltsin's rating, when people are asked to recall him, is in the low single digits.

The collapse of Soviet industry meant abject poverty for tens of millions of people, while a connected few exploited the privatization of state assets to become widely resented billionaires known as oligarchs. Many of those tycoons, notably Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Boris Berezovsky, are now in prison or in exile.

``I have lost my mentor, and Russia has lost the greatest reformer in all its history,'' Berezovsky said Monday.

Much of the wealth that the country's vast natural resources generate now flows to state accounts. The poverty level has been halved, and a sense of rising prosperity has softened resentment over the persistence of the oligarchs. Today's tycoons are politically silent except to pledge fealty to Putin's vision of a strong state.

Putin has also apparently tamed Chechnya, which Yeltsin disastrously invaded in 1994. A second war began in 1999.

Yeltsin's ``greatest mistake was the first Chechen war,'' said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, a human rights organization. ``He was able to realize his mistake, but at the price of tens of thousands of lives. But he did admit the mistake and stopped the war. He was very humane. When he was leaving, he said to people, 'I'm sorry.' Not many leaders can do that.''

Subscribe to Trend in Google News! Subscribe
Weekly actual topics in Azerbaijan (April 16-20)
Weekly actual topics in Azerbaijan (April 16-20)
Weekly tenders in the region (April 16-20)
Weekly tenders in the region (April 16-20)
Last week’s laws, orders and decrees in Azerbaijan (April 16-20)
Last week’s laws, orders and decrees in Azerbaijan (April 16-20)
Loading Bars
Heidelberg shooting: German police say attacker got weapons in Austria
India’s first woman Rafale pilot Shivangi Singh takes part in R-Day parade
Steps taken by Armenia, Turkey to normalise relations are good news - EP's Turkey rapporteur
Georgian Parliament Speaker meets NATO Deputy SG
New US ambassador to Turkey presents credentials to President Erdogan
Embassy of India in Baku celebrates Republic Day (PHOTO)
Booster dose of vaccine required to prevent severe course of COVID-19 - Azerbaijani doctor
Citizens of two more countries allowed to enter Azerbaijan by air
Health structures in Azerbaijan talk COVID-19 vaccine certificate validity
Uzbekistan reveals total assets and liabilities of its banks for 2021
Uzbek Central Bank notes increase in volume of deposits for 2021
Price indexes of industrial, construction sectors at Uzbek stock exchange fall
Azerbaijan says high infectiousness, short incubation period of Omicron strain lead to infection rate growth
Georgia’s parcel shipping companies talk service tariffs in 2022
Rebalancing India’s Foreign Policy
SOCAR to supply spot pipe gas to Turkey
French ambassador convinced by importance of France-EU-Azerbaijan space co-op
Passengers of all three delayed AZAL flights on Baku-Istanbul route depart to destination airport
Advantages of using modernized floating power units in Kazakh copper project named
Azerbaijan to increase gas supplies to Turkey
Azerbaijan pays special attention to restoration of liberated lands - Permanent Representative to UN
OPEC+ expected to stick to planned March output target increase
Sweden sets new daily COVID-19 case record
Azerbaijan maintains positions in Global Firepower 2022 rating
Israel's Partner Comms gets fibre deal to connect East and West
Turkmen Commodity Exchange discloses data on imports from Azerbaijan
Georgia’s Hualing FIZ works close with Azerbaijani investors - CEO (Exclusive)
Kazakhstan to continue implementing measures to battle inflation
Iran, Azerbaijan negotiating to change truck transportation route to outskirts of Astara city - RMTO
Russia pays priority attention to macroeconomic stability - Vladimir Putin
EU, KfW, AFD to maintain support for Georgia’s energy sector
Azerbaijan shares data on number of vaccinated citizens
Turkmenistan, Afghanistan plan to accelerate work on TAP
Uzbekistan and Pakistan to work on preferential trade agreement
Azerbaijan's credit rating at 'BB+/B' neutral for its Eurobonds - Gazprombank
Azerbaijan confirms 3,192 more COVID-19 cases, 1,259 recoveries
Azerbaijani opposition member spared jail over sex attack on vulnerable woman in UK
Iran announces several economic executive orders
Iran seeks foreign investment for Rasht-Astara Railway Project
10 foreigners among Padma awardees
Uzbek Statistics Committee shares data on imports of electric cars
Road bridge across Astarachay River to be breakthrough in dev't of "North-South" ITC project
Georgia’s commercial banks increase net loans issuance
Kazakhstan cancels launch of methanol & olefin plant in Mangystau
AT&T profit beats estimates on strong streaming growth
Azerbaijan records decrease in loans issued for industry and manufacturing
India better placed to meet challenges: Ram Nath Kovind
Iranian president expresses openness to direct talks with US
Azerbaijan's MFA congratulates India on occasion of India's Republic Day
Azerbaijan's TABIB recommends booster COVID-19 vaccination to strengthen immunity
Azerbaijani defense minister continues official visit to Iran (PHOTO)
No one should doubt that new legislation on media in Azerbaijan will meet modern developments - Azerbaijani Media Dev't Agency
Azerbaijan's Rabitabank discloses net profit for 2021
SOCAR’s production union overfulfills production plan
Armenian PM Pashinyan tests positive for COVID-19
Iran reveals trade turnover with Caspian Sea countries
Hualing FIZ CEO talks new projects launched in 2021 (Exclusive)
SOCAR Carbamide’s revenues grow six-fold
STAR Refinery, Petkim see significant increase in recycling rate
Turkmenistan's Halkbank opens tender for audit
Russian companies submitted 14 applications for participation in restoration of Azerbaijan’s liberated territories - ambassador
SOCAR Turkey talks on prospects for new line of production at Petkim
Baku preparing to host FIG Trampoline Gymnastics World Cup
Uzbekistan notes overall increase in exports within 2021
Ambassador Bocharnikov talks increased number of Russia-Azerbaijan flights
Remains of Armenian soldier found in Azerbaijan’s liberated Jabrayil district
Moscow shares Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's approach, vision on trilateral working group - ambassador
Kazakh project for copper-gold deposit dev't may receive nuclear-powered icebreaker
Ambassador talks expected visits of Russia's businessmen to Azerbaijan
Bank of Georgia allocates funds to local shoemaking company for exporting goods to US
Russian ambassador talks upcoming 20th anniversary meeting of Russia-Azerbaijan intergovernmental commission
Russian ambassador assesses work of LUKOIL in Azerbaijan
Turkmenistan's Turkmenhimiya to buy equipment via tender
Meetings of Azerbaijani, Armenian public figures to contribute to normalization of ties – Russian ambassador
Russian ambassador talks trade-economic cooperation between '3+3' countries (PHOTO)
Turkmenbashi oil refineries extends tender for hydrogen production unit construction
Russian ambassador comments on possibility of Azerbaijan joining EAEU
India Emerges as a Global Actor during the Pandemic Crisis
Russia highly appreciates Azerbaijan's position on normalization of regional situation - ambassador
Uzbek Commodity Exchange announces weekly quotes of commodities for export
Georgia’s Hualing FIZ to sign agreement on area expansion (Exclusive)
S.Korea's daily COVID-19 cases surge as new testing scheme begins
Uzbekistan proposes initiative to ensure free trade
Volume of Russian investments in Azerbaijan unveiled - ambassador
Blast in Greek capital damages buildings, one injured
JV in Kazakhstan to engage electric engine repair services via tender
Kazakhstan’s oil producing company opens tender to remove hazardous drilling waste
Kazakhstan’s vice minister of ecology, head of "Operator ROP" company detained
Turkmenistan launches unified trading platform for entrepreneurs
Azerbaijan discloses districts with highest cotton yield
Power outage in Uzbekistan leads to decrease in gas production
Kazakhstan shares data on Samruk-Kazyna Sovereign Wealth Fund's debt
Axpo Holding places first sustainability-linked bond
Azerbaijani oil prices up
Uzbekneftegaz JSC resumes operation of its enterprises and plants following large-scale blackout
‘Nar’ takes the title of Azerbaijan champion (PHOTO)
Georgia reports new record high COVID-19 cases
Germany to support development of Azerbaijan's private sector
Turkmenistan ready to boost natural gas supplies to China
Uzbekistan's Tashkent Metro resumes operations
All news