PRAGUE - Leaders of
former Soviet states have been remembering Boris
Yeltsin, the man who presided over the final days
of the Soviet Union and escorted Russia into a
rocky decade of economic and political reforms.
The former Russian president died of heart
failure on Monday afternoon in Moscow's Central
Clinical Hospital. He was 76.
long suffered from heart problems, and his death
was not unexpected. But his unique position as the
overseer of the
days of the Soviet Union saw many officials
remembering a man who leaves a complicated legacy.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet
president, who saw his power quickly give way to
Yeltsin's in the final days of the USSR, said the
two men had "serious differences". In a condolence
statement issued shortly after Yeltsin's death was
announced, Gorbachev called him a man who was
responsible for both "great deeds for the country
and serious errors".
remembers Former Soviet foreign minister
and later Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze
was a Yeltsin supporter and a fellow reformist
leader in the early years of the Commonwealth of
Independent States (CIS), the post-Soviet alliance
Yeltsin helped to forge.
remembered Yeltsin in an interview with the Radio
Free Europe (RFE) Georgian Service. "I had close
relations with [Yeltsin] already when he was first
secretary of the Sverdlovsk Oblast [Communist]
Party Committee. He visited Georgia twice at that
time and we have been friends ever since," said
Shevardnadze, who stepped down as Georgian
president in late 2003 after a political scandal.
"He later became [Russian] president and
held other posts - he has come a complicated way,
he had disagreements with then-Soviet president
[Mikhail Gorbachev], but, to put it in two words,
Yeltsin played a big role in the building of
democratic foundations in Russia."
opposition leader Muhammad Salikh also said
Yeltsin will be remembered as a leader who brought
democratic values to the forefront.
Yeltsin was an outstanding personality who came to
the political scene at the end of the Soviet
Union," Salikh told RFE/Radio Liberty's Uzbek
Service. "Despite his mistakes as a Communist
Party leader, compared to other leaders, he was
relatively democratic. He will be remembered in
history as a leader of perestroika and
glasnost. If any democratic values remain
in the former Soviet states, it's definitely to
liberty and democracy' Former Ukrainian
president Leonid Kravchuk, together with Yeltsin
and Stanislau Shushkevich, the chairman of the
Belarusian Supreme Soviet, signed the December 8,
1991, Belavezha Agreement forming the CIS.
In an interview with RFE/RL's Ukrainian
Service, he credited Yeltsin with Ukraine's 1991
independence and said that as a leader he had been
motivated by principles of "liberty" and
"For me personally, this was
a man of stature, who with his rough exterior was
a person who really wanted people to live in a
democracy. For democracy in Russia, for its
inception - you have to know Russia to understand
my words - he did a huge amount. He dug the first
furrow of free democratic development Russia after
years of totalitarianism," Kravchuk said.
Kravchuk added that Yeltsin will retain a
lasting place in history as the man who ushered in
a new chapter in the history of the former Soviet
"This was an entire epoch.
Boris Nikolayevich, his life, his work is all part
of the opening of a new age for Russia, for
Ukraine and for all the countries of the former
Soviet Union. This was a period of new life, new
history, and Boris Nikolayevich has pride of place
in this epoch," Kravchuk said. (Nikolayevich was
leadership In Kyrgyzstan, where Yeltsin is
admired for aiding the peaceful collapse of the
Soviet Union, a university bears his name and
there is a statue of him in the northern resort
town of Cholponata.
Former Kyrgyz state
secretary Naken Kasiev told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz
Service that Yeltsin's first trip abroad as
president was to Kyrgyzstan.
his first ever [foreign] trip to Kyrgyzstan after
he was elected president", Kasiev said. "Then I
also witnessed him lead a delegation to the
opening ceremony of the Kyrgyz Slavic University.
He was respectful to Kyrgyzstan."
Khakimov, an adviser to the president of the
Russian republic of Tatarstan, helped negotiate a
power-sharing treaty with Moscow under Yeltsin. He
told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service that he
believed Yeltsin had a vision for the future.
"He was a controversial person. On the one
hand, he brought the collapse of the Soviet Union,
on the other hand - as Russia's first president -
he did a lot for democracy, federalism, liberty,
[and] freedom of speech," Khakimov remembered. "He
felt where the world was going and where Russia
should go. As for Tatarstan, and we honor him for
that, he signed a treaty with us. At that time
everyone [in the Russian leadership] was against
that treaty, but he signed it nevertheless."
Former Moldovan president Petru Lucinschi
said Yeltsin provided critical leadership for
nascent, ex-Soviet states. "He played an essential
role for young independent states like Moldova,"
Lucinschi told RFE/RL's Moldova-Romania Service.
"He paid a lot of attention to the
national aspirations of countries of the USSR
conglomerate, and he was always very sensitive to
these matters. He never put pressure, and the
Istanbul issue of Russia's withdrawal [from
Transdniester] was possible only because of him.
He was the one who said, 'Yes, we have to support
Chaos and uncertainty
Yeltsin's presidency, which lasted from
1991 to 1999, was marked by more than the collapse
of communism and Soviet-era repressions. It also
ushered in an uneasy decade during which market
and political reforms gave way to rampant
corruption, the creation of a Russian "oligarchy"
of super-rich tycoons, and the first of Russia's
two wars with Chechnya.
Yevgeny Yasin, who
served as economy minister under Yeltsin, told
RFE/RL that his legacy, though complicated, would
improve with the passage of time.
he was an outstanding person who took the most
important decisions of the second half of the of
the 20th century concerning Russia," Yasin said.
"These decisions will determine its future for a
long time. I think he displayed the statesman's
highest virtue - the ability to take responsible
decisions while sacrificing his reputation, his
Many Russians think of Yeltsin as
the man who brought an era of chaos and
uncertainty to the country. But Yasin said that,
too, may change with time: "I think they will
remember him negatively for a while, and then they
will understand his role. Maybe historians of the
next generation will give it [Yeltsin's role] the
assessment it deserves."
who came of age in the heady early days of
Yeltsin's presidency, the assessment is already
glowing. Boris Nemtsov, a leading member of the
Russian Union of Rightist Forces, was appointed by
Yeltsin to serve as the governor of the Nizhny
Novgorod region in November 1991.
told RFE/RL's Russian Service that Yeltsin's role
in the country's history cannot be overlooked.
"Personally, I'm very grateful to Yeltsin. He
really gave me an opportunity to realize myself.
It was hard to imagine that a young research
worker could become governor of one of the most
industrially advanced regions of the country,"
"He was capable of trusting
people, he was capable of bold actions, and I
think his rebellious character was extremely
important for dismantling communism and building a