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Last Updated: Monday, 23 April 2007, 19:44 GMT 20:44 UK
Mixed verdict on Yeltsin legacy
By James Rodgers
BBC News, Moscow

Boris Yeltsin changed Russia forever.

His death was announced from the Kremlin - the seat of power which he fell out with, then later occupied as Russia's first post-Soviet head of state.

Boris Yeltsin makes a v-sign at the start of the rally to celebrate the failed military coup in Moscow in August 1991
Yeltsin successfully opposed an attempted military coup in 1991

His successor, President Vladimir Putin, has telephoned Yeltsin's widow, Naina, to express his condolences.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, was both a fellow reformer and sometime political rival.

In paying tribute to Yeltsin, he has spoken of "major deeds for the good of the country, as well as serious mistakes".

"His was a tragic destiny."

That two-sided assessment is likely to be the way that Russia remembers Yeltsin.

He did ensure that the country would never return to the stifling authoritarianism of Soviet communism.

I have no good words for him, and do not want to say anything bad about the deceased
Russian Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov

He famously stood on a tank to show his opposition to the attempted coup mounted by Soviet hardliners in the dying days of communism in 1991.

Two years later, he sent troops to subdue a parliament which refused to share his vision of Russia's post-Soviet future.

He also presided over the disastrous military campaign to crush Chechnya's drive for independence.


It was during his administration that some entrepreneurs were able to amass fortunes - often in legally questionable circumstances - from the sale of state property.

Boris Yeltsin and Boris Berezovsky
Some oligarchs fell out of favour with Yeltsin's successor

The wealth of the oligarchs, as the tycoons came to be known, bred huge resentment among an ordinary population fighting financial hardship.

That made him unpopular with those Russians who truly believed in the Soviet system.

"I would like to refrain from comment on the day of Yeltsin's demise," the leader of the Russian Communist Party, Gennady Zyuganov said.

"I have no good words for him, and do not want to say anything bad about the deceased."

At the other end of the political spectrum, Grigory Yavlinsky, a leading figure in the reforms of the 1990s, had this tribute:

"He ruled the country during one of the hardest times in its history," he said.

"It's important to remember that Yeltsin defeated his political opponents but never destroyed them."

Russians will remember Boris Yeltsin both for his opposition to hardline communism, and the chaos that followed collapse of the system he challenged.

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