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Boris Yeltsin's legacy: mixed reviews

Many associate the former Russian president more with Russia's decline than with the USSR's demise.

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Boris Yeltsin, the feisty, glowering ex-Communist leader whose dramatic feud with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev led to the collapse of the USSR and vaulted him into the presidency of a newly independent Russia, died on Monday, according to the Kremlin.

Minutes after the announcement, former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev summed up the complicated legacy Mr. Yeltsin leaves for Russia, which has largely moved beyond the tumult and decline that marked his nine years in the Kremlin.

On Yeltsin's shoulders "are both great deeds for the country and serious errors," said Mr. Gorbachev, according to the news agency Interfax.

For many Russians, the proud and courageous Yeltsin who faced down hard-liners and ushered the USSR from history's stage never delivered on his pledges of a better post-Soviet life. The USSR's collapse was followed by hyperinflation, mass impoverishment, and the privatization of Russia's natural resources into the hands of a tiny elite of Kremlin insiders.

"The best thing Yeltsin did was to give us Vladimir Putin," says Kremlin-connected analyst Sergei Markov, referring to Yeltsin's dramatic New Year's Eve resignation in 1999, which eased Mr. Putin into the job of acting president. "Otherwise the results of Yeltsin's years in power can be compared to the effects of a civil war," including economic collapse, demographic crisis, and implosion of Russia's prestige on the world stage, Mr. Markov says.

Others may be kinder to the huge, bear-like Siberian, born in the village of Butka in 1931, who went on to run his native region as Communist Party secretary during the 1970s. Many observers say he was an innovative leader, impatient with red tape and eager for improvement.


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