AUR#834 Apr 25 Boris Yeltsin, Played A Role In Emergence of An Independent Ukraine; Canadians Honour Mulroney For Recognition of Ukrainian Independence

                 An International Newsletter, The Latest, Up-To-Date
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                      Ukrainian History, Culture, Arts, Business, Religion,
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              Boris Nikolaevich Yeltsin
                             Born February 1 1931; Died April 23 2007
     The sight of him standing heroically against the attempted coup of August
     1991 is unforgettable. It was the end of a ghastly era of human history, in
           which despotism went almost beyond the limits of the imagination.
Mr. E. Morgan Williams, Publisher and Editor, SigmaBleyzer

               –——-  INDEX OF ARTICLES  ——–
            Clicking on the title of any article takes you directly to the article.               
   Return to the Index by clicking on Return to Index at the end of each article
1.                               RUSSIA’S AGENT OF CHANGE
                 For All His Flaws, Boris Yeltsin Started Something Big
By Anne Applebaum, Columnist, The Washington Post
Washington, D.C. Tuesday, April 24, 2007; Page A21

                     Without Russia, Ukraine and Belarus the Soviet Union

                             could not be the same. It was a break-up.
Ekho Moskvy radio, Moscow, in Russian 1426 gmt 23 Apr 07
BBC Monitoring Service – United Kingdom, Monday, Apr 23, 2007

3.                   YELTSIN’S DEATH – WHAT THE MEDIA SAID

BBC Monitoring Service, United Kingdom, Tuesday, Apr 24, 2007

4.                         THE MAN WHO BEAT COMMUNISM
Commentary By Mary Dejevsky, The Independent

Guardian Unlimited, London, UK, Tuesday, Apr 24, 2007

COMMENTARY: By Martin Wolf, Financial Times
London, United Kingdom, Tuesday, April 24 2007
9.                                    BORIS YELTSIN, 1931-2007
Remembering the first democratically elected president of the Russian Federation.
Weekly Standard, Washington, D.C., Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Press office of President Victor Yushchenko, Kyiv, Ukraine, Tue, 24 Apr 2007

11.                                         BORIS YELTSIN
                 His legacy is mixed, but his stand for freedom is indelible.
EDITORIAL, The Washington Post
Washington, D.C., Tuesday, April 24, 2007; Page A20

12.                       THE LIFE OF YELTSIN: BYE-BYE BORIS
                                  Boris Yeltsin, a flawed hero, has died
From, London, UK, Monday, April 23, 2007

Alexander Panetta, Canadian Press

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Tueesday, April 24, 2007

Alexander Panetta, Canadian Press,
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Thursday, April 19, 2007


Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC)
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Office of the Prime Minister, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Wed, 18 Apr 2007
                 For All His Flaws, Boris Yeltsin Started Something Big

By Anne Applebaum, Columnist
The Washington Post, Washington, D.C.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007; Page A21

It was October 1987, three weeks before the 70th anniversary of the
Bolshevik Revolution. The Soviet elite had gathered in Moscow to mark the
occasion. After the customarily lengthy speech by Communist Party General
Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, the chairman asked whether anyone wanted to

Unexpectedly, Boris Yeltsin, then the Moscow party boss, went up to the
rostrum. He spoke for a mere 10 minutes — and in that 10 minutes changed
Russian history.

Reading that speech now, it’s hard to see what the fuss was all about.
Yeltsin complained that the party lacked “revolutionary spirit” and that the
Soviet people suffered from “disillusionment.” The language was that of a
party functionary, which is, of course, what Yeltsin was.

But then, unexpectedly, he resigned. And with that extraordinarily canny
decision, he won instant notoriety. Never had a communist leader set
himself up as a popular alternative to the Communist Party.

Within days, half a dozen versions of Yeltsin’s speech were being sold on
the streets of Moscow, their authors variously speculating that Yeltsin had
condemned communism, had supported democracy, had attacked the
privileges of the Communist Party leadership.

Every person who felt dissatisfied — and there were many — believed that
Yeltsin shared his views. Two decades later, in a far more cynical Russia,
this mood is hard to remember. But in the late 1980s, Yeltsin was wildly
popular. When the first presidential election was held in Russia in 1991, it
was inevitable that he would win.

That euphoria launched an extraordinary period in Russian history, and a
presidential career best described as manic-depressive. Over the next eight
years, Yeltsin had enormous bursts of creative energy, alternating with long
periods of illness, alcoholism and retreat.

He could rouse himself to rally the country and would then vanish, leaving
the government in the hands of his corrupt cronies. He was capable of
speaking eloquently about freedom, yet he had an autocratic streak and
brooked no criticism.

He talked about economic reform but transferred his country’s industry to a
small group of oligarchs. He ended the Cold War but started a new and
terrible war in Chechnya.

During that time, Western perceptions of Yeltsin fluctuated no less
schizophrenically. In the beginning, he was considered a dangerous upstart.

The elder President George Bush openly refused to meet him. Then he stood on
a tank in the center of Moscow, told cheering crowds to resist an attempted
putsch — and the West turned 180 degrees, called him a hero and embraced
him, sometimes literally.

German Chancellor Helmut Kohl exchanged bear hugs with Yeltsin. Bill Clinton
campaigned for Yeltsin’s reelection. The International Monetary Fund created
new types of loans for Russia, just to be able to give Yeltsin money with no
strings attached.

Yet even while he and Clinton were enjoying those long, heavily televised
walks through the woods, it was clear that Yeltsin was planting some of the
seeds of the retrenchment we see in Russia today.

During his administration, that IMF money vanished into secret bank
accounts. Yeltsin first abolished the KGB, then quietly revived it to keep
tabs on his enemies.

Despite the rhetoric of the Yeltsin era, Russia still does not have what
most of us would recognize as a free-market economy. Though we hailed him
as a democrat, Yeltsin did not leave behind anything resembling a functional
democracy. And he knew, at some level, that he had failed.

When he resigned from the presidency, on New Year’s Eve of the millennium —
the second momentous resignation speech of his career — he wiped away a
tear and apologized to the Russian people for “your dreams that never came

It has become fashionable to turn another 180 degrees and to condemn Yeltsin
for corruption and autocracy just as thoroughly as the West once supported
him. This is tempting, especially for those who disliked the lionization of
Yeltsin as much as I did.

But now that he is dead, perhaps it makes more sense not to classify him as
a liberal or an autocrat, as friend or foe. For in the longer historical
perspective, it is clear that Yeltsin, unlike his predecessor Gorbachev, was
a genuine man of transition.

He knew things had to change, but he had neither the ideas nor the tools to
change them. He had some of the instincts of a populist democrat but all the
habits of a lifetime Communist Party apparatchik. He admired Western
abundance but never understood how Western societies actually work.

In truth, he belonged neither to the Soviet Union, which Gorbachev had
hoped to revive, nor to the West, which Putin now rejects.

Had we ever been realistic about him, we would have understood his
limitations from the beginning — and appreciated his strengths. And had we
not embraced him uncritically, we would have been less disappointed when
things turned out differently from what we, too, had hoped.
Anne Applebaum:
[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]

                     Without Russia, Ukraine and Belarus the Soviet Union
                              could not be the same. It was a break-up.

Ekho Moskvy radio, Moscow, in Russian 1426 gmt 23 Apr 07
BBC Monitoring Service – United Kingdom, Apr 23, 2007

MOSCOW – [Presenter] Just now, literally two minutes ago, we have recorded

a message of condolence from the president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail
Gorbachev. This is what he said.

[Gorbachev] The news [the death of Russian President Boris Yeltsin] took me,
probably just as everyone else, by surprise. Despite being ill he had been
active recently. This is very sad. I have already offered my deep
condolences to Naina Iosifovna [Boris Yeltsin’s wife] and the family.

Our paths had crossed. While occupying important posts, we had to together
address issues relating to the democratic changes under way in the country.
We managed to do quite a lot. This is important.

However, there were differences of opinion, major differences, which the
forces opposed to perestroika and change used to their advantage. This
complicated the situation and eventually led to a major divergence in
politics and paved the way for the putschists.

While during the putsch, during his hour of glory, he courageously and
boldly defended democracy and democratic changes, subsequently his passion
for power undermined joint efforts to overcome the deep crisis at the time
when there was hope that this could be done.

He thought that it would be easier for Russia to carry out reforms if it
unloaded other republics. What did unloading other republics mean? It meant
the dissolution of the country. And he went down this path. Without Russia,
Ukraine and Belarus the Soviet Union could not be the same. It was a

I think however that both he and I thought of one thing, to do more for the
people. Our approach to this task was different. I was against shock
therapies. I thought that we had to do it step by step. To be fair, the
nation supported him at the time. This is history.          -30-

[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]
BBC Monitoring Service, United Kingdom, Tuesday, Apr 24, 2007

The death of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin on 23 April has sparked
a wave of media coverage as commentators grapple with the legacy of a man
who played a key role in the demise of the Soviet Union.

Described frequently as a figure of contradictions, Yeltsin is portrayed as
a colourful politician with a “bulldozer of a character”, a man who
attracted both love and hate as he presided over a period of change and
Russian TV coverage has been dominated by the news of Yeltsin’s death, with
the correspondent on state TV channel Rossiya’s evening news bulletin on 23
April saying Yeltsin would remain forever “one of the most prominent and
colourful Russian politicians of the 20th century”.

The correspondent said many people still blamed Yeltsin for the break-up of
the Soviet Union, but that all Yeltsin, former Ukrainian President Leonid
Kravchuk and former Belarusian President Stanislaw Shushkevich did was
simply remove “the flag and the name-plate from a building that had already

On state-controlled Channel One TV’s main news bulletin, the presenter said
“Yeltsin may have been a complex figure, but he was definitely a great one”.
The channel’s correspondent said “someone like Yeltsin, with his bulldozer
of a character” had been precisely what Russia needed.

Gazprom-owned NTV’s news presenter said Yeltsin was for Russians “a symbol
of the struggle against the Soviet system for democracy and freedom”. The
presenter added that Yeltsin was someone who “provoked the most conflicting
feelings among Russians”.

Privately-owned TV channel Ren TV’s news correspondent commented that
“no-one knows what country we would now be living in if Yeltsin hadn’t led
public resistance against the putsch.”

Popular Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy’s commentator Anton Orekh

remarked that Yeltsin “did something that no-one had ever done before him…
he buried communism as the ruling idea in Russia”.

The Russian papers agreed that Yeltsin was an extraordinary figure, with
Gazeta highlighting what it saw as the contradictions in his character, “By
his beliefs he was a communist but a liberal; by style of rule – an
authoritarian leader but a democrat”.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta said that Yeltsin did not receive due recognition in his
lifetime, while Vedomosti hailed him as “the politician who brought the
country back on the path of civilized development”.

Moskovskiy Komsomolets had praise for Yeltsin’s treatment of the press and
said it was only the war in Chechnya and privatization that had ruined his

Kommersant, however, hinted that Yeltsin may have secretly agreed with the
opposition in their assertion that his biggest mistake was in his choice of
Vladimir Putin as his successor.

Novyye Izvestiya summed up Yeltsin’s legacy as “the hope that he gave all of
us” and said he should “be remembered for a long time and with gratitude”.

                                 FORMER SOVIET UNION
In Ukraine and Belarus, commentators reflected on Boris Yeltsin’s career and
his legacy, with the private independent Ukrainian ICTV station pointing out
that he “played a role in the emergence of an independent Ukraine”.

Both Belarusian TV and Ukrainian state-owned UT1 TV reminded their viewers
that many people still cannot forgive Yeltsin for putting an end to the
Soviet Union, but Moscow-leaning Ukrayina TV believed he would “go down

in history as the only Russian leader to step down voluntarily”.

Private independent Inter TV summed up the contrasting views. “The world
will remember Yeltsin as a Russian bear – careless, formidable and at the
same time awkward,” it said, adding, however, that “few know that he was a

Most Ukrainian dailies gave front-page prominence to reports on Yeltsin’s
death. The pro-government Segodnya said: “the president who wanted

Russians to think about Ukraine every morning has died”.

The daily Den in an article headlined “The death of a giant” pointed out
that it was Russia that first announced its independence thanks to “the
personal will and persistence of Boris Yeltsin as the leader of the
democratic opposition”. “We should thank Boris Nikolayevich for our
independence,” the paper said.

Belarusian TV said everyone agreed that Boris Yeltsin was “a political
heavyweight and a man of iron will” and “although he quit politics, he
became an embodiment of Russia’s modern history”.

The Belarusian presidential administration’s newspaper Sovetskaya
Belorussiya described Yeltsin as having “an astonishing gift for
unpredictable actions”, but it went on to describe him as “a friend of

The parliamentary newspaper Narodnaya Hazeta said “Yeltsin is a politician
who embodies the contradictions and difficulties of our epoch”.
                                  REST OF THE WORLD
Boris Yeltsin’s death was widely reported in the Chinese-language papers,
which praised him for developing Sino-Russian relations. Beijing’s Zhongguo
Wang said “he finally realized that China is Russia’s most important
strategic partner.”

The China Daily also described Yeltsin as having “a special fate with
China.” The papers also looked at his legacy, with Zhongguo Wang saying “the
Yeltsin era set the tone of Sino-Russian relations.”

One commentator in the China Daily suggested that “Yeltsin left historical
regret, but he also brought long-lasting hope for Russia”.

The papers also described Yeltsin as a “figure full of contradictions”,
however. “From reform to the break-up of the former Soviet Union, from shock
therapy to an oligarchy, from welcoming the West to strong nationalism,”
evaluating the former Russian president “remains as difficult as before”,
one commentator in the China Daily said.

“Yeltsin was a lonely reformer” was the theme of a commentary in the
Chongqing Chenbao which focused on what it saw as Yeltsin’s failed policies.
“Yeltsin and his chosen road of reform faced the fate of being adjusted and
then abandoned. This was Yeltsin’s and also Russia’s tragedy.”

Beijing’s Zhongguo Wang web portal also suggested that Yeltsin’s death
marked “the complete end of Russia’s honeymoon period with the West and
heralds the arrival of a new era”.

In Japan, the media praised Yeltsin’s efforts to resolve the territorial
dispute between Tokyo and Moscow that has kept the two countries from
concluding a formal peace treaty since the end of World War II. Asahi
Shimbun, the country’s second-largest daily, described him as “a big-hearted

Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei), Japan’s leading business daily, cited
government officials, who praised Yeltsin’s achievements and said his name
would “go down in history”.

Yeltsin’s death also hit the headlines across Europe. Germany’s Frankfurter
Allgemeine Zeitung described Yeltsin as a “president of transition”, but Die
Welt painted a more colourful picture calling him a “Siberian hotspur”.

Commentators in Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung said “No Russian since Lenin
has turned the giant realm upside down in such a brutal manner… or lived
through innumerable political and personal crises”.

A French La Chaine Info journalist painted a portrait of Yeltsin as a
“popular and powerful orator”. France Info radio, however, said Yeltsin left
“mixed feelings among the Russians, for whom his presidency recalls the most
unstable years of the country’s recent history.”

La Chaine Info international affairs editor Vincent Hervouet said that “for
better or for worse, Boris Yeltsin remains in fact linked to a period in
which Russia was reborn and in which it discovered that, under the rubble of
the Soviet Union, it was not quite so easy to create a state governed by the
rule of law and to create a kind of capitalism without rules, and that all
this was very painful.”

The Hungarian papers detailed Yeltsin’s political career and achievements.
Magyar Nemzet described his legacy as “controversial,” while Nepszabadsag
said he lived long enough to see his successor leading Russia back to the
world of “order” and “censored speech”.

Nepszava said that he did a great service to Russian democracy. The papers
also highlighted that Yeltsin apologized to Hungary for the Soviet
intervention in 1956.

In the Balkans, Yeltsin’s death was met with mixed emotions. Croatian TV
said the former Russian president had “led his country to democracy, but
also to economic collapse, plunder by new Russian oligarchs and corruption”.

The Croatian centrist daily Vjesnik also placed the blame for the Chechen
war on Yeltsin’s shoulders and centre-left Novi List described him as
“anything but a democrat.”

The Serbian daily Danas gave Yeltsin’s career a mixed review, calling him ”
an inconsistent reformer” and Politika was similarly critical, saying that
his rule would “be remembered as the most traumatic period in the recent
history of the biggest country on Earth”.

Montenegrin TV also reflected back over Yeltsin’s career and included a
commentary on the rise of the oligarchs, who it notes took over the economy
during the Yeltsin years “reducing millions of ordinary Russians to

In Slovenia, the daily Vecer looked at the history and state of democracy in
Russia, and commented that the future seems pretty grim.

The daily said people would remember Yeltsin as a “vodka lover” and someone
who had “one hand on the rocket launch button and the other on the backside
of a secretary or translator”.

The daily Delo said that while being a contradictory figure he would go down
in history as a politician who managed to bring democracy to Russia.  -30-
[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]


Commentary By Mary Dejevsky, The Independent
London, United Kingdom, Tuesday, Apr 24, 2007

It is the classic historian’s question: do individuals or impersonal forces
move nations? Anyone who saw Boris Yeltsin, as I did, descend the steps from
the Russian parliament and clamber on to the tank to address a message of
defiance to the small crowd of Muscovites below, will retain not a sliver of

Individuals move nations – brave, foolhardy, strangely guileless individuals,

such as Boris Nikolaevich Yeltsin.

That scene from 19 August 1991 is preserved in slow motion in my memory, as
it must be in the memory of everyone who was there. That morning, Moscow
seemed a zone of timeless uncertainty. A state of emergency had been
declared before dawn.

According to a clumsily formulaic announcement, the Soviet President,
Mikhail Gorbachev, had been removed from power due to ill health. A
committee had taken over and a state of emergency declared.

Tanks had rolled into Moscow amid the Monday morning rush-hour traffic and
converged on strategic locations: the Kremlin, the KGB headquarters, the
defence ministry and the White House, the cavernous building of the Russian
parliament. Anticipating the paraphernalia of military coups, ID checks,
barred roads, I decided for no particular reason, to make for the White

Armoured vehicles were positioned around the building. Diplomatic cars,
whose arrival apparently predated the tanks, filled the car park. Then
suddenly there was movement: a small group started to come down the steps.
Yeltsin was in the centre; aides on either side seemed to be trying to
dissuade him.

He walked slowly and very deliberately, towards the tanks. A few
pleasantries with the guards, and he was on the top, reading from a scrap of
paper. “I do not accept this coup,” was the crucial sentiment I remember

Until the world allowed itself to be diverted by the drunken buffoonery of
Yeltsin’s last years in office, this was the image that defined him. It is
also his rightful legacy.

Without Yeltsin’s challenge, the coup against the Soviet President might
have succeeded, the Soviet Union might have staggered on, with an
increasingly fearful, and repressive, Politburo in charge.

Yeltsin called the plotters’ bluff. He rallied the nation. He anathematised
the Communist Party and pro-nounced it summarily dissolved.

The bizarrely incompetent coup still had two full days and two agonisingly
tense nights to come, but one man in Russia had refused to accept it. At the
emergency committee’s embarrassing press conference that afternoon, a few
brave young Russian journalists followed suit.

The sparse crowd outside the White House grew through the rainy evening, as
people came after work intent on seeing the night through. Young men offered
themselves to fight, swearing allegiance to Russia and its President on a
Bible. Those were truly the days Soviet Communism was smashed. They were
also the days when Russia was reborn.

Boris Yeltsin was from that point on the unchallenged ruler of Russia. Gone
was the awkward duopoly of rival Soviet and Russian power, which had been
made all the more unpredictable by the clashing personalities of the
bull-headed Yeltsin and the smoothly calculating Gorbachev. Yeltsin held the

He brought Gorbachev back from his Crimean captivity, but he was ruthless in
chopping the power from under him. He taunted him before the Russian
parliament. He endorsed the independence declarations of the Baltic states.
Through the autumn, he allowed pillar after pillar of Soviet hegemony to

Russia, Ukraine and Belarus renounced the treaty that founded the Soviet
Union. The gold reserves (and foreign debt) passed into Russia’s control.
The KGB lost its sway; one by one, small, scared agents defected (including
the British ambassador’s driver).

The centralised supply system broke down. The West prepared for famine, the
collapse of all communal services and waves of refugees trying to escape
across the Finnish border.

Gorbachev resigned on 25 December 1991. His departure was elegant, and sad.
He bequeathed the Kremlin, and Russia, with evident reluctance to a man he
neither trusted nor liked.

Yeltsin, true to form, did himself no favours on his big day. Gorbachev and
his staff had to wait around for several hours before Yeltsin was found. The
strain of his imminent new responsibilities had, it was said, driven him to
seek out his usual solace.

In the Russia of those tense post-Soviet days and weeks, however, it was
Yeltsin’s strengths, not his weaknesses, that prevailed.

That the West’s elaborate precautions, whether for refugees, civil war or
famine, were mostly unnecessary is in large part because Yeltsin was
embraced by Russians as the father of their newly revived Russian state.

There was a special bond that linked Yeltsin and “his” Russia. He and they
spoke a common language, they had common priorities; this bombastic,
bear-like leader suited his people and the times.

That relationship was to sour. Yeltsin won re-election in 1996 against the
odds, and largely thanks to a media campaign that was expensive in every
sense of the word. His health was failing, although his multiple heart
by-pass eventually gave him a second lease on life.

To the despair of his diplomats, he was unreliable abroad. Russians might
have laughed with the rest of us, but they felt embarrassed that the West so
easily forgave his drunken antics, as if this was only to be expected of a

Boris Yeltsin will be remembered by most Russians who lived through the
Eighties and Nineties, with much affection and, yes, with not a little
respect. He was a unique character, a tough Siberian, a Russian through and
through, and a leader who obeyed instinct, not design.

A man of action, he did not plot and plan. He did not have anything that
could be described as a philosophy – either of life or of Russia’s destiny.
Nor was he a dissident as the term is generally understood.

He did not start out as an opponent of the Soviet regime; he ended up in
opposition as a frustrated regional leader who chafed at the rigidities that
prevented what he saw as common-sense reforms. And in truth his legacy was
mixed. He presided over enormous freedom, but also over chaos, crime and
economic collapse.

Yeltsin’s years in power have been assessed and reassessed several times
already. But there is a risk now, in the light of what many see as the
retreat from individual freedoms under Vladimir Putin, that Yeltsin will be
remembered for the wrong things and in the wrong way.

Contrary to the myth that some have cultivated, he was not a democrat as
most people would understand the word, nor was he a principled pro-ponent

of free speech or the free market. Nor, though, was he the drunken
exhibitionist of the televised clips that were aired time and again last

He was a man of the heart, not the head. When he came to power, he did what
he thought was good for Russia. And in the crucial decisions – on personal
freedoms, for instance – he was more often right than wrong.

Having slain the dragon of Soviet communism, his next great merit was to
have left an enervated Russia largely to its own devices.

How much of a choice he actually had in those extraordinary and volatile
years will be for the next generation to judge. But I doubt that I was the
only one to have raised a glass in fond memory last night.

Mikhail Gorbachev
“I express the very deepest condolences to the family of the deceased, on
whose shoulders rest major events for the good of the country and serious
mistakes. A tragic fate.”

Vladimir Putin
“The President today phoned Naina Yeltsin and expressed the deepest
condolences to her and those close to the first president of Russia,” a
Kremlin spokesman said.

Tony Blair
“Former president Yeltsin was a remarkable man who saw the need for
democratic and economic reform and in defending it played a vital role at a
crucial time in Russia’s history.”

Boris Berezovsky
“Russia has a lost a brilliant reformer. No one has done as much for Russia
as Yeltsin. He was unique and absolutely Russian in his soul, in his
impulsiveness and in his intellect.”

Baroness Thatcher
“Without Boris Yeltsin, Russia would have remained in the grip of Communism
and the Baltic states would not be free. He deserves to be honoured as a
patriot and liberator.”

George Bush
“Yeltsin was a historic figure who served during a period of momentous
change. He played a key role as the Soviet Union dissolved, helped lay the
foundations of freedom in Russia.”

Angela Merkel
“Boris Yeltsin was a large personality in Russian and international
politics, a courageous fighter for democracy and freedom and a true friend
of Germany.”

Chechen separatists
“We would like to remind people that the government of the Chechen

Republic of Ichkeria included Yeltsin in its list of war criminals. He is
wanted for crimes against humanity.”                  -30-
[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]
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5.                                 BORIS YELTSIN 

Guardian Unlimited, London, UK, Monday, Apr 23, 2007

Boris Yeltsin, who has died aged 76, was the most controversial figure in
recent Russian history, provoking even stronger emotions in his compatriots
than Mikhail Gorbachev, the man he replaced in the Kremlin.

While Gorbachev presided over the decline of the Communist party and the

end of the Soviet empire in eastern Europe, it was Yeltsin, Russia’s first
elected president, who buried the Soviet Union itself. For that he earned
euphoric admiration from some of his fellow-citizens and raging hatred from

Yeltsin’s second outstanding claim to fame was his decision to launch Russia
towards market reforms via the route known as “shock therapy”, again
covering himself with an avalanche of praise and fury.

Then, in October 1993, in a bizarre episode for an emerging democracy, he
ordered tanks to assault the seat of the Russian parliament in the climax of
an 18-month struggle with elected deputies.

Finally, just over a year later, he ordered Russian troops, most of them
conscripts, to try to put down a rebellion in Chechnya that has remained a
key issue ever since. The rash move sent more Russian citizens to their
deaths than the 10-year-war, which the Soviet Union waged in Afghanistan
till 1989.

Any of these actions would have ensured Yeltsin a place in the catalogue of
strong Russian leaders from Ivan the Terrible onwards. The four together
create an extraordinary record for a man who was virtually unknown in
Russia, let alone abroad, until the age of 56.

Yeltsin’s name is indelibly linked with Russia’s faltering experience in
trying to create democracy in a country which had known centuries of
authoritarianism. He was given strong support by western governments who
feared a return to communist rule but confused personality with process.

They frequently overlooked Yeltsin’s mistakes and encouraged him to bring in
a constitution that concentrated massive power in the presidency rather than
achieving a reliable system of checks and balances.

But western support did at least prevent backsliding, and in spite of hints
that he might cancel the presidential elections of 1996, when opinion polls
suggested he would lose massively, or indeed the parliamentary elections of
1999, Yeltsin reluctantly honoured the system.

Yeltsin was born to a peasant family in the village of Butko in the Urals.
When the family’s only cow died, Yeltsin’s father moved to Perm to work

as a labourer on a building site. The family of five lived in one room of a
communal hut for 10 years.

As a mischievous child, Yeltsin lost his thumb and index finger while
playing with a stolen grenade. Undistinguished at school, Yeltsin worked as
a construction engineer for 14 years until he joined the Communist party’s
city committee in Sverdlovsk (the former Yekaterinburg) as a full-time

The party ladder was the only path to upward mobility available to an
ambitious, but not outstanding, young man. The intellectually brilliant
could aspire to a scientific career and membership of the Academy of
Sciences, where party membership was advisable but by no means essential.
For the less talented, the Communist party was the best avenue to

In the rough-and-ready postwar environment of the industrial Urals that were
earmarked for rapid development by Moscow’s planners, Yeltsin’s skills and
energy helped him advance. He became the first secretary of the Sverdlovsk
party in 1976.

In the monolithic system of Communist party rule, being head of a regional
branch was equivalent to being a kind of colonial administrator. The
Communist party was almost a military structure.

Regional bosses took orders from the men above, and passed them on to the
lower echelons. There was no need to negotiate with competing power
structures or political leaders with different views, since there were none.

The extent of a regional party secretary’s room for manoeuvre was to lobby
the central authorities for extra funds for his area, to build new
factories, roads, or schools. A party secretary showed his worth by his
efficiency in getting things done.

Yeltsin was a loyal servant of the centre. When he was ordered in 1977 by
the Politburo to demolish the house where the last tsar, Nicholas II, and
his family were murdered in July 1918, he complied readily. The house was
becoming a focal point for low-key demonstrations and Moscow wanted it

After Gorbachev came to power in March 1985 and started his perestroika
reforms, Yeltsin was invited to join the Politburo as a non-voting member.
His dynamism made him seem a good man. He was put in charge of running
Moscow. Although he launched himself into the new job with energy and
created a populist image with well-publicised trips on buses and trams, he
began to lose patience when he ran into opposition from entrenched

By the summer of 1987 he was anxious to move. At a spectacular session of
the Central Committee in October, which was meant to concentrate exclusively
on Gorbachev’s draft speech celebrating the 60th anniversary of the
Revolution, Yeltsin criticised Gorbachev and announced he would resign from
the Politburo. His action started a rift between the two men that was never

The immediate crisis was hushed up, but after the anniversary celebrations
Yeltsin was summoned to a meeting of the Moscow branch of the party where

he was sacked as city leader. But instead of being removed from the scene
altogether, as would have happened under earlier Soviet leaders, Yeltsin was
given a second chance.

Gorbachev made him deputy minister in charge of construction. The job was a
demotion, but Gorbachev wanted to present himself as a leader with a softer
and more consensual style of government than his predecessors. In the past
top men who fell out of favour had lost everything.

As preparations developed in 1989 for the country’s first contested
elections for more than 60 years, Yeltsin – down but far from out – saw the
opportunity for a comeback. Projecting himself as a martyr, and making
strong criticism of perestroika’s failure to improve people’s standard of
living, Yeltsin won a landslide victory to the Congress of People’s

In the new parliament he joined the radical wing of perestroika’s critics. A
year later he was elected to the new Russian parliament, making it clear he
hoped to become its chairman. He probably did not yet see the job as a base
from which to oust Gorbachev altogether, but he clearly wanted to reduce the
Soviet leader’s power.

As the drive for independence developed in the Baltics, the notion of
“sovereignty” – even for the other republics that did not want to leave the
Soviet Union – became attractive. Yeltsin argued for a new treaty to
transform the Soviet Union, not to abolish it.

By mid-1990 the Communist party’s monolithic rule was being openly
challenged. The party had agreed to change the constitution to allow for
other parties to emerge, but Gorbachev’s efforts to remove the conservatives
from influence in the Communist party were meeting growing resistance.
Yeltsin decided to abandon the party completely. At its congress in July
1990 he stunned fellow delegates by announcing his resignation and walking
out of the hall.

During the crisis over the Baltic republics’ moves towards independence,
when Soviet forces seized the television headquarters in Lithuania in
January 1991 in support of a mysterious Committee of National Salvation that
wanted to overthrow the elected government, Yeltsin rushed to the area to
show solidarity with the independence movements.

He called on Soviet troops not to obey illegal orders. It was a bold move
that undoubtedly helped to split the Soviet establishment and prevent the
coup attempts going further. Gorbachev, meanwhile, kept silent for 10 days,
apparently unwilling to confront the hardliners in the KGB and the military.

The Lithuanian crisis led many radicals to conclude that Gorbachev himself
had become an obstacle to change. Yeltsin took the same view, calling
publicly for Gorbachev’s resignation in February 1991. Meanwhile, he
strengthened his own power base by persuading a majority of deputies in the
Russian parliament to amend the constitution and establish an executive
presidency for Russia, to be chosen by direct national ballot.

Yeltsin went on to win the election handsomely. He now had an alternative
power base from which to challenge Gorbachev, as well as the legitimacy of
victory in national elections – a position that Gorbachev never achieved.

The hardliners, led by the head of the KGB, the defence minister, and the
interior minister, took Gorbachev hostage while he was on holiday in the
Crimea two months later. They set up an emergency junta to run the country
with the aim of reversing the reforms, reimposing central rule, and halting
the republics’ drive to independence.

As elected president of Russia, Yeltsin was in an unparalleled position to
oppose them. With energy and flair he led the resistance, calling on
ordinary people to defend the White House, the seat of the Russian
parliament. The image of him standing on a tank and inviting the army to
break from the coup was the high point of his career. The army split, with
the officers of the units on the streets of Moscow crucially throwing their
weight behind the elected Russian president rather than an unconstitutional

The failed coup exposed the political bankruptcy of the Communist party,
which did nothing to rally support for Gorbachev, its leader, held hostage
in the Crimea. Fear of the hardliners alarmed those republics that wanted
looser control from Moscow, or outright independence. Taking advantage of
the vacuum of power in Soviet institutions, Yeltsin started his own economic
reforms in Russia.

Increasingly he ignored Soviet law, as he decreed the suspension of the
Russian Communist party and withheld Russian taxes from the central budget.

In December he met the leaders of Byelorussia and Ukraine at a hunting lodge
in a forest near the Polish border, where they formally announced the Soviet
Union was dead. Gorbachev accepted he was finished, and resigned on
December 25.

Yeltsin was now the supreme master of Russia. He agreed to plans by his
radical economic advisers for an end to price subsidies in an effort to spur
the economy towards the market. “Everyone will find life harder for
approximately six months, then prices will fall,” he told parliament.

It was an unfortunate prediction, as inflation rose in 1993 by 2,000%.
Millions of Russians saw their savings wiped out. Others found themselves
forced to reduce their diet because of high prices of food.

For the next two years the botched economic reform became a battleground
between Yeltsin and the parliament. A majority of MPS had given the
president special powers in October 1991 to bring in a reform, but when they
saw the results, their support flagged.

By character and instinct, and with his long background as a party
apparatchik, Yeltsin was never a man disposed to compromise or negotiation.
He tried to outflank the parliament by demanding a renewal of his special
powers and holding a referendum calling for early parliamentary elections.

He won the referendum in April 1993 but not by a big enough vote to make it
binding. He then sought to change the constitution unilaterally to give the
president the power to dissolve parliament. Most MPs, meanwhile, had turned
against the president. The battle lines were hardening on both sides.

In September 1993 Yeltsin’s patience ran out. He ordered the dissolution of
parliament and sacked his vice-president, Alexander Rutskoi, even though he
had no constitutional right to do either. Scores of MPs decided to stay in
the building and resist eviction.

There were strange ironies in that Yeltsin was now the man putting pressure
on the same building and the same MPs that he had been defending only two
years earlier during the 1991 coup.

Ten days after the siege started a pro-parliamentary demonstration broke
through police lines several hundred yards away from the building.
Inexplicably, the main police cordon round the White House was lifted as the
marchers approached.

In the excitement of apparent “liberation” Rutskoi and Ruslan Khasbulatov,
the leader of parliament, urged their supporters to seize the mayor’s
office, the main state television station, and the Kremlin.

A number of armed paramilitaries, representing extreme nationalist and
pro-Soviet revanchists, had camped round the White House to help to “defend”
it. Many of them stormed the mayor’s office and moved on towards the
television station. The police held them away from the TV headquarters, and
according to Pavel Grachev, the defence minister, the threat only lasted 10

Yeltsin nevertheless decided to order an assault on the White House. The
army commanders hesitated for several hours, but on the morning of October 4
the decision was taken to bring tanks to the building.

Firing went on all day, and Rutskoi and Khasbulatov were arrested and
imprisoned. It appeared that Yeltsin had achieved what he had wanted.
Parliament was closed. The army had stayed loyal. The president was free to
rewrite the constitution.

But the seeds of disappointment were already there. The assault on
parliament shocked most Russians and when elections were held for a new
parliament and to endorse the new constitution two months later Yeltsin was
rebuffed. The Central Election Commission, whose chairman was a Yeltsin
appointee, declared the constitution had passed but there were strong
suspicions that they were fudging the figures.

In the parliamentary poll Yeltsin’s strongest supporters, the block known as
Russia’s Choice, won barely 15 per cent of the vote. An extreme nationalist
party, led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, which strongly criticised the economic
reform programme, came first with 23 per cent. The communists made a strong

Worse was to come for Yeltsin. In almost its first act, the new parliament
passed an amnesty for the October detainees, releasing Rutskoi and
Khasbulatov from prison. Six months after dissolving the previous
parliament, Yeltsin found himself no stronger politically than before. It
was the first reverse he had suffered since his expulsion from the Politburo
in 1987. It seemed that his luck had run out.

The setback appeared to affect Yeltsin’s morale. He frequently disappeared
from Moscow for unexplained reasons. His health was known to be poor and he
drank heavily, but no official bulletins were published. The weakness of the
president exacerbated the tensions within his administration, as different
groups battled for influence.

The economy was nominally under the control of Viktor Chernomyrdin, the
prime minister, but pro-western monetarists like Anatoly Chubais, the
privatisation minister, tried to steer it in a different direction by
playing on Yeltsin’s wish to be well-perceived in Washington. Meanwhile, the
real influence over Yeltsin was his old tennis partner and the head of his
bodyguard, Alexander Korzhakov.

Korzhakov allied with Pavel Grachev, the defence minister, to convince
Yeltsin to launch a military attack on the separatist Chechen leader, Zhokar
Dudayev, in December 1994. The move caused a major rift with the liberals in
Yeltsin’s camp, many of whom resigned or publicly denounced the president.
Yeltsin’s only support came from the maverick nationalist, Vladimir

The futility of the attack and its ham-fisted implementation, as Russian
tanks and artillery pulverised villages, killing hundreds of civilians and
turning thousands of others into refugees, caused a new decline in Yeltsin’s
morale as well as his public support. For much of 1995 the president
appeared not to be in control of the country.

The December 1995 parliamentary elections dealt him a new blow. Viktor
Chernomyrdin’s party, the only one identified clearly with Yeltsin, won less
than ten per cent of the vote. It looked as though Yeltsin’s presidency was
going to end in disaster.

Yet even at this late hour Yeltsin showed he could fight his way out of
depression. Emboldened by his advisers, who feared their own demise if their
boss’s regime came to an end, Yeltsin decided to run for re-election.

By now the main opposition was no longer the ultra-nationalists like
Zhirinovsky. The baton had been picked up by the communists, who won the
largest share of votes in the December 1995 elections.

The communists had made themselves leaders of the “patriotic popular block”,
an eclectic combination that favoured a greater role for the government in
running the economy and a foreign policy less sympathetic to Western views.

The block’s main electoral strength was widespread opposition to Yeltsin’s
market reforms and anger over the non-payment of wages in hundreds of firms,
whether they had been privatised or not.

The Kremlin turned the communists’ strength to its own advantage. The
government already controlled the two state-owned television channels.

By using the intellectuals’ fear that a communist comeback was knocking at
the door, Yeltsin’s advisers persuaded the third television channel, the
privately owned NTV, to join their camp. This monopoly of the main
broadcasting media became the decisive factor in Yeltsin’s victorious
election campaign.

Instead of having a referendum on five years of Yeltsin’s rule, his advisers
managed to turn the election into a referendum on the abuses and atrocities
of the communist past. When Yeltsin had been elected president in 1991, the
two national TV channels were divided. One supported him. One opposed him.

The fact that five years later, voters were subjected to a less open
democratic process was a sad reflection on Yeltsin’s failure to build on the
foundations that Gorbachev had left for him.

Yeltsin had suffered a heart attack between the two rounds of the 1996
election. The controlled media and Yeltsin’s press spokesmen concealed the
fact. With victory secure, the truth of his health problems could no longer
be concealed. Yeltsin virtually dropped out of action until he was given a
quintuple heart bypass operation in November 1996.

His major achievement was to accept the peace plan for Chechnya negotiated
by Alexander Lebed, one of his defeated rivals for the presidency, who
briefly served as secretary of the security council.

The basis of Yeltsin’s second-term government was a group of
multimillionaire businessmen who had done well out of privatisation. These
were the oligarchs, whose activities are still a key facto in Russian
politics. Then they called the shots and ran the main media, although
inevitably rivalries developed amongst them.

Alexander Korzhakov, who had been Yeltsin’s main drinking companion and
adviser for several years was embroiled in the factional struggles and broke
with the president. Yeltsin’s excessive drinking on foreign trips became an
increasing embarrassment both for Russians and his western hosts.

Power in the Kremlin revolved around what Russian analysts called the
“family”. Most prominent was Yeltsin’s younger daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko,
who was the only person considered able to talk to the president frankly.

Others included Boris Berezovsky, the billionaire businessman now in London
exile, and Anatoly Chubais, who remained the architect of Yeltsin’s economic
policies. Yeltsin had a succession of different chiefs of staff and press
secretaries but relied heavily on the “family”.

He took the final decisions himself, which explained the capriciousness of
his moves in 1998 and 1999 when he sacked and appointed five prime ministers
in thirteen months. There seemed no point in some of the moves, except that
the president was jealous of anyone stealing his limelight.

In spite of Yeltsin’s erratic behaviour, western governments continued to
support him on the grounds that he was leading a process of economic
“reform”. But the reform was highly flawed. Income inequalities grew.
Homelessness and poverty increased as the government failed to pay pensions
or the wages of workers in the state sector.

Manufacturing output continued to slump. Financial crime and corruption
flourished with impunity. The country became even more dependent on its raw
material sector than it had been in the communist years while the consumers
of its wealth became more concentrated on Moscow. This created the paradox
of an affluent-looking capital city and increasingly desperate provinces.

In 1998 the economy for the first time began to register a mild upswing, but
it was based largely on massive loans from the International Monetary Fund
and a budget deficit financed by the sale of government bonds with absurdly
high rates of interest. In the summer the bubble burst. The government
defaulted on its loan repayments and the rouble lost three-quarters of its

Yeltsin’s legacy on the economic front looked in tatters. The fruits of
privatisation had been hijacked by asset-strippers who sent their profits
abroad rather than investing in Russia. Tens of thousands of small
businesses had come to life in the decade since communism but living
standards for Russians were precarious.

Facing new parliamentary elections in December 1999 and a presidential poll
in 2000 (in which he could not go for a third term), Yeltsin and the
“family” were desperate to find a way of ensuring that the succession should
not pass out of their hands with the risk they could be charged with abuse
of power.

Thanks to an increase in the world price of oil, Russia’s economy began to
revive in 1999 but not enough to revive the president’s popularity. Yevgeni
Primakov, a former prime minister, seemed to have a strong chance of winning
the presidency on an anti-corruption ticket with a centre-left programme.
For the first time since 1991 there was a credible challenger who did not
represent the Communist party.

Yeltsin’s team felt they had to divert attention from their economic
failures. A new issue had to be found. In August 1999 Yeltsin changed prime
ministers again, appointing an unknown former KGB officer, Vladimir Putin,
who promptly ordered the army into Chechnya after a small group of
fundamentalists from Chechnya invaded the neighbouring republic of Dagestan.

It seemed a bizarre and highly risky decision but the Kremlin’s efforts were
helped by a series of unexplained terrorist bombings in Moscow and other
cities, which left around 400 Russians dead.

The state-controlled TV stations manipulated popular anger against Chechens,
limited news of Russian casualties on the battlefield, and, as it had done
in 1996, denied the opposition fair coverage in the December elections. As a
result a new party supporting Putin did unexpectedly well, gaining 23% of
the vote to 13% for the party led by Primakov.

The first stage of Yeltsin’s bold but unprincipled strategy had worked. With
the opposition still reeling, he then took the second step. On December 31
1999 he resigned. Putin became acting president and in his first move
granted Yeltsin amnesty and immunity from prosecution.

With the advantage of incumbency and control over state TV, he entered the
presidential election with a massive headstart. Primakov decided not to run.
Within less than six months Yeltsin and his cronies had thus brilliantly
ensured that power would remain in safe hands.

The manner of his departure from power fully confirmed the description of
Yeltsin which had been given some years earlier by Pavel Voshchanov, his
first press secretary. Voshchanov called him “a battering-ram”. In the days
when destruction was on the agenda he performed a powerful role, undermining
the Communist party and defeating the August 1991 coup. In government, he
was less impressive.

He did not have the political skills to reconcile opposing views or search
for consensus. He was not a dictator, but he was authoritarian. He accepted
the broad rules of democracy, provided that he could manipulate them
sufficiently to remain on top.

He tolerated widespread corruption, and though he frequently sacked
ministers, it was never because of their dishonesty or because of their ties
to the new economic oligarchs. He left complex issues to his experts,
preferring to remain above the battle while confining himself to shuffling
and re-shuffling the ambitious men in his team.

In retirement he virtually disappeared from public view, not attempting to
be an elder statesman or travelling on the international circuit. His health
was fragile and he was apparently nervous of the image he would strike, once
he was devoid of power.

Yeltsin presided over Russia’s first decade of post-communism.

The fact that it did not lead to a more stable form of democracy cannot be
blamed on him alone, but he bears a large measure of responsibility for the

Russia needed a more sensitive and intelligent leader during the transition
from the politics of one-party control and repression to the politics of
negotiation and compromise. Yeltsin, unfortunately, was not the man. He is
survived by his wife Naina and two daughters.

Boris Nikolyaevich Yeltsin, politician, born February 1 1931; died April 23

[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]

Irish Times, Ireland, Tuesday, Apr 24, 2007

The man credited with smashing the communist system also impoverished his
people by his handling of the transition to capitalism.

Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin who died yesterday aged 76 was among the most
controversial of world political leaders. He was seen by his supporters as
the man who smashed Russia’s communist system and bravely fought for
democracy against the coup plotters of August 1991 and a rebellious
parliament in 1993.

Critics take a different view.

To them he was no democrat but a power-grabbing autocrat schooled as a
Communist Party boss and member of the Politburo; a president so prone to
debauchery that he embarrassed his country consistently on the international
stage, and a leader who oversaw Russia’s economic collapse as well as two
brutal wars in Chechnya. There have also been strong allegations of
corruption in his immediate entourage and family.

Born in the remote village of Butka in the Sverdlovsk region of the Urals,
Yeltsin graduated as a civil engineer in 1950 and went on to make a career
in the local communist party, eventually becoming city boss in Sverdlovsk
(now Yekaterinburg) in 1976. His drive and success, particularly in
providing housing, attracted nationwide attention.

He was also responsible for the demolition of Ipatiev House in Sverdlovsk to
prevent it becoming a monarchist symbol. Tsar Nicholas II and his family
were executed in the house in 1918.

At the invitation of Mikhail Gorbachev he moved to Moscow where he became a
head of the construction department of the Communist Party of the Soviet
Union, a member of the Supreme Soviet and later a member of the Politburo.

Differences with President Gorbachev over the pace of reform saw him removed
from the Politburo and instead he advanced through the power structures of
the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (RSFSR), the largest
constituent republic of the USSR.

During the crisis over the Baltics in January 1991, when Soviet forces
seized the television headquarters in Lithuania in support of a mysterious
Committee of National Salvation which wanted to overthrow the elected
government, Yeltsin rushed to the area to show solidarity with the
independence movements.

He called on Soviet troops not to obey illegal orders. It was a bold move
which helped to split the Soviet establishment and prevent the coup attempts
going further. Gorbachev, meanwhile, kept silent for 10 days, apparently
unwilling to confront the hardliners in the KGB and the military.

The crisis led many radical democrats to conclude that Gorbachev was an
obstacle to change. Yeltsin took the same view, calling publicly for
Gorbachev’s resignation in February 1991.

Meanwhile, he strengthened his own power base by persuading a majority of
deputies in parliament to amend the constitution and establish an executive
presidency for Russia, to be chosen by direct national ballot. Yeltsin won
the election handsomely.

The hardliners, led by the head of the KGB, the defence minister and the
interior minister, took Gorbachev hostage while he was on holiday in the
Crimea two months later. They set up an emergency junta to run the country
with the aim of reversing the reforms, reimposing central rule and reversing
the republic’s drive to independence.

As elected president, Yeltsin was in an unparalleled position to oppose
them. With enormous energy and flair he led the resistance, calling on
ordinary people to defend the White House, the seat of the Russian

The image of him standing on a tank and inviting the army to break from the
coup was the high point of his career. Faced with two potential leaders, the
army split, throwing their weight behind the elected president rather than
an unconstitutional junta.

The coup hastened the collapse of the Soviet Union and spurred Yeltsin to
start his economic reforms. Increasingly, he ignored Soviet law, as he
decreed the suspension of the Communist Party and withheld Russian taxes
from the central budget.

In December he met the leaders of Byelorussia and Ukraine at a hunting lodge
in a forest near the Polish border, where they formally announced the death
of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev accepted he was finished, and resigned on
December 25th.

Yeltsin was now the supreme master of Russia. He agreed to plans by his
radical economic advisers for an end to price subsidies to spur the economy
towards the market. “Everyone will find life harder for approximately six
months, then prices will fall,” he told parliament. It was an unfortunate
prediction, as inflation rose in 1993 by 2,000 per cent.

Millions of Russians saw their savings wiped out. Others found themselves
forced to reduce their diet because of the high prices of food. For the next
two years the botched economic reform became a battleground between Yeltsin
and the parliament.

Initially extremely popular, Yeltsin’s hold over Russia’s electorate
dwindled as the economy weakened, Russia’s position as a major power
evaporated and average living standards declined. Increasingly authoritarian
in his views, the list of close associates fired from their jobs when it
became politically expedient is too long to be given here.

Some of his associates, notably vice-president Alexander Rutskoi and
parliament speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov, became bitter enemies and were in the
parliament building when Yeltsin sent in tanks to shell its rebellious
members in October 1993.

A general election in December of that year returned a Duma which was even
more anti-Yeltsin than the demolished parliament but a referendum giving
unprecedented powers to the president was passed.

Under the new constitution Yeltsin virtually ruled by decree and his
behaviour became more and more eccentric. He spontaneously conducted a
military band in Berlin, while simultaneously singing a tune different from
the one the band was playing; while under the influence of drink he failed
to leave his aircraft at Shannon for a scheduled meeting with then taoiseach
Albert Reynolds. Back in Moscow he said: “I feel excellent. I can tell you
honestly, I just overslept.”

World leaders beat a path to the door of his Kremlin office only to find he
was “not at home”. Not surprisingly, his health began to fail and in the
summer of 1996 he suffered a major heart attack just a week before the
second round of the presidential election in which he defeated the communist
party leader Gennady Zyuganov. An official Kremlin statement announced he
had a sore throat. His absence from meetings was concealed by the supine
Russian media.

Yet, though full of bluster, he revealed more of his personal life and
private doubts than any previous Russian leader had.

“The debilitating bouts of depression, the grave second thoughts, the
insomnia and headaches in the middle of the night, the tears and despair . .
. the hurt from people close to me who did not support me at the last
minute, who didn’t hold up, who deceived me – I have had to bear all of
this,” he wrote in his 1994 memoir, The Struggle For Russia.

Later in 1996 Yeltsin underwent a quintuple heart-bypass operation and since
then his health has been fragile. Nevertheless he continued to rebound from
periods of bad health and continued to keep his colleagues on their toes by
ensuring that their futures were less than secure.

In the space of just over a year Viktor Chernomyrdin, Sergei Kiriyenko,
Yevgeny Primakov and Sergei Stepashin lost their jobs as prime minister.

Others such as Gen Alexander Korzhakov found themselves suddenly excluded
from the Yeltsin inner circle in which they had found themselves ever since
the coup of 1991. Gen Korzhakov, a former KGB officer who headed the corps
of presidential guards, gained revenge in print at every available
opportunity since then.

Increasingly Yeltsin’s entourage included people of unsavoury and sinister
reputation. The most prominent of these has been multimillionaire Boris
Berezovsky who has been described as Russia’s modern Rasputin.

Berezovsky, who made a fortune from the assets sell-off and was granted
political asylum in Britain after fleeing the current Kremlin regime, said
in a statement yesterday: “I have lost my mentor and Russia has lost the
greatest reformer in all its history.”

Allegations of massive corruption in the Kremlin were countered by the
dismissal of the general prosecutor, Yuri Skuratov. When prime minister
Primakov appeared to back Skuratov’s line of investigation, he too was

Reports of payments to Yeltsin and his daughters by a Swiss company which
had won a series of Kremlin contracts have not been satisfactorily rebutted.
At the end of his career instability in Russia had reached the stage where
capital flight was estimated to have reached US$2.9 billion a month.

In the course of the Yeltsin era, per capita income fell about 75 per cent,
and the nation’s population fell by more than 2 million, due largely to the
steep decline in public health.

While the highlight of his career was his resistance to the attempted coup
in 1991, many would argue that this was more than outweighed by the economic
collapse of 1998 and the first Chechen war which raged from 1994 to 1996 and
which cost the lives of tens of thousands of innocent civilians.

Yeltsin frequently made announcements that the war had ended when it had
not. Finally, he drafted in Gen Alexander Lebed to end the conflict. The
general did so and was then ditched by Yeltsin when it was expedient to do

History is unlikely to look kindly on Yeltsin’s period in office. His
anti-communism was far from democratic and his management of the economic
transition to capitalism succeeded in impoverishing his people while
enormously enriching a few oligarchs. And he presided, after all, over the
violent deaths of more of his fellow citizens than did any other Kremlin
leader since Stalin.

[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]
7.                       TO RUSSIA, WITH A LITTLE LOVE

Guardian Unlimited, London, UK, Tuesday, Apr 24, 2007
For all his failings/strengths, Boris Yeltsin was ultimately a force for
good/bad in Russia.

The verdict on the late president tips both ways in today’s papers. A
grateful Telegraph praises the “flair” that enabled him to “destroy Soviet
tyranny”; the Guardian, less indulgent, says his legacy “proved to be a
bitter pill, from which Russia is still suffering”.

Yeltsin was a “vigorous, no-nonsense mayor who, in the dying days of
communism, showed in practice how Gorbachev’s calls for glasnost and
perestroika could be translated into better government”, writes an admiring
Michael Binyon in the Times.

If only he had drunk less and not succumbed to a heart attack at the height
of his powers in 1996: “As Yeltsin’s grip weakened, so the challenges grew:
Chechnya, Russia’s tricky relations with its former empire, the breakdown of
public health and education, and rampant inflation. Russians felt battered
and bewildered and yearned for the old certainties and stability instead of
this chaotic new freedom.”

Richard Beeston recalls watching Yeltsin’s encounter with a disaffected
babushka. Harangued for failing to pay her pension on time, Yeltsin “took
the granny by the hand and told her to calm down. The woman’s anger
subsided, then turned to tears. Yeltsin embraced her in a customary bear

“An aide was summoned to take down her complaint and make sure that she

went away with a generous presidential gift. I was told she was given the keys
to a new shiny Lada. It was a trick he was to repeat again on the campaign

“If Yeltsin cast himself as the founding father of post-communist Russia, a
Thomas Jefferson he was not,” says the Guardian.

“A meeting at which the presidents of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus plotted
the downfall of the union ended in a drunken brawl.

Russia’s democratic dawn lasted for only two years, until the new president
ordered the tanks in against the same parliament that he had used to bring
down the Soviet system. Now blood was being shed in the name of liberal

But the FT’s former Moscow bureau chief says Yeltsin’s great achievements
were to permit a “more or less free media, more or less free travel and more
or less free politics”, and that he left Vladimir Putin the basis of a
market economy and a constitution.

“A man of the people, he rose far above them, appeared often indifferent to
them – but probably always wished to improve their lot and broaden their
horizons. And he probably did.”                       -30-

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COMMENTARY: By Martin Wolf, Financial Times
London, United Kingdom, Tuesday, April 24 2007

“A man has died thanks to whom a whole new era began. A new democratic
Russia was born: a free state open to the world in which power really does
belong to the people.” Thus did Vladimir Putin laud Boris Yeltsin, the man
who chose him for the presidency of his country.

Mr Putin was both right and wrong. Yeltsin was the most democratic ruler
Russia has ever possessed. Yet what is emerging under his successor is not
the vibrant democracy that many hoped for. Yeltsin’s legacy is as mixed as
was his turbulent nature.

Yeltsin was among a small number of leaders who have transformed the world.
His name will ever be linked to that of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last general
secretary of the Communist party of the Soviet Union, an organisation that
played so catastrophic a part in the history of the 20th century. Yeltsin’s
courage and charisma brought to an end both the party and the Soviet Union

His enemies will never forgive him for his role in ending the party, the
state and the Russian empire in 1991. But those who lived most of their
lives in the shadow of the cold war will always be grateful to him.

The sight of him standing heroically against the attempted coup of August
1991 is unforgettable. It was the end of a ghastly era of human history, in
which despotism went almost beyond the limits of the imagination.

Yeltsin’s courage was partly born of calculation. He was, after all, an
apparatchik, versed in the tortuous politics of the Soviet system. He had
already staked out his position as the spokesman of radical reform in the
politburo and then as the first democratically elected president of Russia.

By 1991 he had to oppose the coup. But these were also the correct choices:
he was on the right side of history. He recognised that the Soviet Union had
become an empty shell and had the effrontery to break it.

Inevitably, Yeltsin did not know what to do with the power he had gained.
This is hardly surprising. He was ill-equipped to cope with the political,
social, economic and psychological challenges he confronted. Nobody could
have been.

Inevitably, reform of Russia, whose people felt they had suffered defeat,
proved far more difficult than reform in the former empire, most of whose
people were enjoying liberation.

Moreover, if Yeltsin had not been the stereotypically turbulent (nay,
drunken) Russian that he was, he would not have had the courage to take on
the system and win. He never fully understood what a democracy or a market
economy was. How could he have done so?

But, to his eternal credit, he did tolerate free speech, he did allow the
former republics of the Soviet Union to go their own way, he did give
sporadic support to the reformers, he did go ahead with the presidential
election in 1996 and, not least, he did leave office peacefully.

Moreover, notwithstanding all the mistakes he made, he did begin the move to
the market. He was neither a civilised intellectual nor a sophisticated
statesman, but, by Russia’s dreadful standards, he was little short of a

History will, I believe, judge that he made three huge mistakes:

     [1] the war on Chechnya, which brought the security services into the
          heart of government;
     [2] the “loans for shares” programme of 1995, which transferred a vast
          part of the natural wealth of Russia into a tiny number of private
          hands; and
     [3] the selection of Mr Putin as his successor.

These three errors, together, led to a reversal of the move towards a more
democratic, liberal and open Russia.

But these errors are at least understandable:

     [1] the first because Russians feared the dissolution of their country;
     [2] the second, because return of the communists to power seemed
          a real risk; and
     [3] the third, because Mr Putin appeared both reliable and untainted.

These mistakes were not Yeltsin’s alone. The west also made big errors. It
gave too little assistance at the beginning, when it might have made a
difference, and too much later on, when it postponed the financial crisis of
1998, for which Yeltsin and the west were both duly blamed.

Behind Yeltsin’s mistakes was a still bigger failure: his infirm grip over
government itself. Under his rule, Russian government was more corrupt,
incompetent and feeble. A backlash was inevitable.

The backlash has taken on traditionally Russian characteristics, through the
rebirth of a strong arbitrary state, unchecked by parliamentary or legal
restraints presiding over a cowed civil society.

Yeltsin’s remarkable story may then be seen as at best a partial success and
at worst a gross failure. I would regard it as closer to the former than the
latter. The Russia of today is not one a European – or indeed Russian –
liberal hoped for. But it is surely far better than the Russia of three
decades ago. For that Yeltsin deserves much credit.

The story of the ups and downs of Russian reform over the past two decades
is not just about political leadership and political ideas, important though
they have been. It is also about the impact of the world price of energy on
an economy that Stalinist socialism had rendered desperately inefficient.

Economic reform began under Mr Gorbachev, in the old Soviet Union, shortly
after the collapse in the price of oil in 1985. It continued through the era
of Yeltsin and Mr Putin’s first term.

It died, as the oil price soared and so export revenue, the current account,
foreign exchange reserves and the fiscal position were transformed. The
economic boom that resulted has made everything easier for Mr Putin (see

Between 2002 and 2005, for example, gross domestic product rose by an
impressive 22 per cent. But, as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation
and Development notes in its latest economic survey of Russia, “command
GDP”, which adds the additional benefits of the massive recent rise in Russia’s
terms of trade (the relative prices of exports to imports), rose by 38 per

Russia today is a politically centralised and corrupt petro-state. As long
as this continues, reform will remain stalled and the political system
centralised and oppressive. That is the lesson not just of Russian, but of
worldwide, experience.

The price of oil rose too soon in the process of reform, with sad longer-
term results. The collapse in oil prices in the 1980s made the reforms
necessary, but their current rise makes Mr Putin’s regime stable. When (or
if) prices fall again, a new leader may dare to complete Yeltsin’s task of
turning Russia into a modern liberal democracy.

We should hope for this outcome, above all for the sake of the Russian
people themselves. Then at last we will also be able to say with confidence
that, under Yeltsin, a new democratic Russia was born.        -30-
[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]

9.                    BORIS YELTSIN, 1931-2007
Remembering the first democratically elected president of the Russian Federation.

Weekly Standard, Washington, D.C., Tuesday, April 24, 2007

I WILL NEVER FORGET the first time I saw Boris Yeltsin in person. It was
in Dallas in September 1989–slightly less than two years after he was fired
from his job as Moscow’s chief Communist Party boss and lost his seat on
the old Soviet-era Politburo.

His political revival had begun earlier that year with his election to the
Congress of People’s Deputies, and he was touring the United States as the
“comeback kid” of Soviet politics.

His one-time patron-turned political adversary, Mikhail Gorbachev, had
called the Congress as an attempt to create a popularly elected
semi-legislative body that could push through the reforms he had been
unsuccessful in forcing through the notoriously regressive Communist Party

It was supposed to be Gorbachev’s pedestal that he would use to vault over
his political opponents. Instead it made–or rather, relaunched–Yeltsin’s

Gorbachev’s humiliation and political demise would come two years later in
August 1991 when a hapless crew of Communist functionaries attempted to
remove him and reinstate a hard-line, Stalinist-style regime.

As the coup collapsed, Yeltsin became the hero of the day as he climbed atop
a tank near the Russian Republic parliament building (called the “Beliy Dom”
or “White House” at the time) and it was clear that the old Soviet empire
was dead.

On that September day in Dallas Yeltsin was very much the man the world
would see on top of that tank two years later. He was the larger-than-life
politician we would come to know later as the first democratically elected
president of the Russian Federation during the final days of the Soviet
period, and then later as the leader of the new, independent Russian state

that was formed after the liquidation of the USSR.

He was bombastic, uncompromising, and full of hyperbolic criticisms against
and solutions for the removal of the Communist Party regime.

At one point he told the crowd assembled by the Dallas Council on World
Affairs that “some of the party functionaries need to be punched out of
their positions of power and luxurious privileges like a pilot being ejected
from a jet fighter aircraft. Just give me the button to press.”

Most of his political life Yeltsin was–as one of his biographies described
him–a man going against the grain of the ruling order. His tenure as
Russia’s president was tempestuous.

His regime saw the collapse of the old USSR’s command economy, several
rounds of hyperinflation that wiped out the savings of many Russians,
suppression of a would-be rebellion in 1993 by military force, and numerous
other political and economic upheavals.

Looking back, it is hard to believe that Russia made it through the 1990s
without collapsing in some cataclysm. The people of Russia (as well as the
rest of the world) were exceedingly fortunate that Yeltsin never let the
many forces whirling about him reach the point where Russia itself would
spin out of control.

I lived in Moscow for most of the 1990s and witnessed a lot of this
first-hand. Being in Russia in those days was almost like living through
another revolutionary period.

One never knew what the world would look like each morning, a surprise
middle-of-the-night dismissal of the entire government happened more than
once, and at times you held your breath waiting for what might be coming

Despite his flaws, Yeltsin was a man who defied all of his opponents and
critics. His political death certificate was written several times–only to
see him rise against the odds and stay in the game. Physically, few expected
him to survive to reach a second term.

A friend of mine working for one of the major U.S. news bureaus in Moscow
told me one day in 1996 that their assignment for the weekend was to write
Yeltsin’s obituary.

Everyone was sure he would succumb to his heart illness at any moment; the
bureau chief wanted to have the file footage and script in the can ready for
broadcast when the time came. As usual, he fooled them all and stayed alive
for another 11 years until his heart finally gave out this week.

None of Yeltsin’s historic achievements made the Russian population regard
his tenure with any sense or respect or fondness. He is reviled by many as
having presided over Russia’s precipitous decline in international prestige.

He is resented for having let much of Russia’s state-owned wealth (i.e. oil
companies, aluminum plants, etc.) fall into private hands for a fraction of
its true value.

His most powerful supporters, such as Boris Berezovskiy, were not only
distrusted by the regime of Vladimir Putin who succeeded Yeltsin, but were
either thrown into prison (like Yukos president Mikhail Khordokovskiy) or
forced into exile.

All of which demonstrates that Russians have both short memories and an odd
sense of what makes a “great leader.” As a Communist

Party official Yeltsin was the quintessential populist. He rode the public
transport in Moscow to work to see how well it did (or did not) work. He
stood in line with ordinary citizens in the shops and berated the staff when
he saw signs of shoddy service.

He turned down the luxurious country house, or dacha as they are called,
that was one of the perks of his position as Moscow city party boss.

None of this principled leadership is likely ever to be seen with the
current government in Moscow. Putin and his senior aides travel in a phalanx
of security guards and armored Mercedes limousines fitted with electronic
jammers designed to defeat roadside bombs and blank out mobile phone

Every step possible is taken to insulate them from the general public. A
Moscow colleague said recently “one has to go all the way back to the Stalin
years to find anything resembling the level of power and paranoia that now
characterizes their public appearances.”

Under Yeltsin there was an open, if sometimes chaotic political dialogue.
Newspapers, television networks, radio stations and other outlets were more
or less free to say what they wanted.

In Putin’s Russia the state’s control and/or intimidation of most of the
media has almost completely eliminated anything resembling public debate.

Programs like Viktor Shenderovich’s Kukly (“Puppets”), which ran from 1994
to 2003, were merciless in satirizing the ups and downs of the Yeltsin
years, but the marionette comedy was abruptly taken off the air when Putin
took offense at the manner in which he was portrayed in one week’s segment.

During the Yeltsin period, as is the common complaint, Russia was the “wild
east.” Corruption was rampant and the people needed a strong hand to restore
order. But order cannot be restored when there is no accountability in
government and the press is muzzled.

According to last autumn’s Transparency International survey, Russia’s
Corruptions Perception index is a lowly 2.4 on a scale of 0 to 10–the same
score that the country earned in the last year of Yeltsin’s rule.

The Russia ruled by Putin’s “dictatorship of the law” is now in the same
corruption bracket as Albania. The neighboring nations of Belarus and
Ukraine–not famous for their incorruptibility–have better scores than the
regime in Moscow.

Yeltsin’s government saw a number of high-profile murders, but almost all
were the result of business disputes or of one organized crime syndicate
attempting to move in on another’s operations. The murders have continued
under Putin, but the victims are no longer oil barons or casino managers.

They are the ex-secret policeman’s political critics like journalists Anna
Politkovskaya and Ivan Safranov, or Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko,
who barely survived a pre-election poisoning attempt by forces allied with
his then-campaign opponent, Viktor Yanukovich, who was actively supported by

Most notably, under Yeltsin no one ever pilfered millions of dollars worth
of exotic nuclear materials and carried them onto a British Airways aircraft
(leaving a trail of radioactivity in their wake) so that they could provide
one of the Russian government’s critics in exile with a particularly
gruesome death.

Again, one has to return to the Stalin years to find the full assets of the
state being used to terrorize anyone and everyone living in any country that
has a bad word to say about the regime.

The main difference in the two leaders is that Yeltsin was possessed of a
visceral desire to eradicate the undemocratic nature of the old regime.
Stanislav Shushkevich, the man who steered Belarus into independence in
1991, told the press this week that the breakup of the USSR “would not have
been bloodless if Russia had been led by someone else.”

Given today’s interference by Moscow in the internal affairs of Ukraine as
the fledging democracy tries to break away from Russia and form ties with
NATO and the E.U. one wonders if this conflict will end without bloodshed.

This week Renaissance Capital, the Moscow-based investment bank that is one
of Putin’s biggest cheerleaders, released a survey of 1,600 Russian citizens
across 46 regions in which 80 percent of the respondents favored Putin
staying in office for a third term.

Private banks are usually not in the polling business, but in this case
another four years of Putin means the money keeps coming in. That’s how the
money men in Russia like things–neat, tidy and predictable, not messy.

And that in the end is the biggest difference between Yeltsin and his
successor. Earlier in the year Igor Malashenko, one of the founders of the
once-independent NTV, was quoted as saying that Yeltsin “loved the mess” of
democracy. Democracy is, by its very nature, unruly.

Yeltsin understood and gloried in this fact. It is a pity–if not a
tragedy–that Russia’s government now seems to have sold its population on
idolizing a regime that represents everything Boris Yeltsin tried to
eradicate from Russia’s political system.                     -30-
Reuben F. Johnson writes on defense and aerospace for THE WEEKLY

STANDARD and several U.S. and European defense publications.
[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]

Press office of President Victor Yushchenko, Kyiv, Ukraine, Tue, 24 Apr 2007

KYIV – Victor Yushchenko visited the Russian embassy in Kyiv on Tuesday
to pay tribute to former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who had died
yesterday aged 76.

“On behalf of the Ukrainian nation, I would like to express sincere
condolences over the passing of Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin, the Russian
Federation’s eminent statesman and first president.

The great democrat, builder of the renewed Russia and inspired advocate

of freedom passed into eternity. [.]. Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin will forever
remain in our hearts as Ukraine’s close friend, our reliable partner and
committed supporter of a new strategic partnership between Ukraine and
Russia,” he wrote in a condolence book.

The Ukrainian leader later told reporters, “Speaking about Boris
Nikolayevich, we understand how difficult it was for him to rebuild Russia
when he was its first president.

We realize that he was a remarkable leader and great personality who made a
great, qualitative contribution to the development of bilateral relations
between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. We remember and appreciate all
these achievements and all these good actions.”

Yushchenko thanked the Yeltsin family and Russia for having “such a historic
figure” and for what Yeltsin had done to be always remembered in Ukraine.

[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]
11.                              BORIS YELTSIN
              His legacy is mixed, but his stand for freedom is indelible.

EDITORIAL, The Washington Post
Washington, D.C., Tuesday, April 24, 2007; Page A20

BORIS YELTSIN was a man of great contradictions who nevertheless will be
remembered, first and foremost, for a single image: his defiant stand upon a
T-72 tank in front of the Russian parliament in August 1991 against a coup
by defenders of the dying Soviet Union.

That is the right place to begin any assessment of the first democratic
leader in Russia’s history — especially as he may be the last for some time
to come.

On that day and for a year or two before and after it, Mr. Yeltsin fought
for a Russia that would be ruled by the free market, free speech and a
vibrant civil society.

He led a nation that appeared prepared to leave behind centuries of
imperialism and live peacefully and cooperatively with its immediate
neighbors and the rest of the world.

Though Mikhail Gorbachev began the dismantlement of Soviet-style
communism, it was Mr. Yeltsin who ensured that the process led, albeit
temporarily, to democracy and liberal capitalism.

He was also the chief protagonist of the Soviet Union’s peaceful breakup,
which has allowed 14 nations besides Russia to pursue their own destinies,
including three that are now members of the European Union and NATO.

Had Mr. Gorbachev, or Russia’s current leader, Vladimir Putin, had his way,
neither of these extraordinarily positive changes would have happened.
Tragically, Mr. Yeltsin ended up destroying much of what he had achieved.

In 1993 he ordered the army to attack the same parliament building he had
defended; though the political reactionaries inside were the first to take
up arms, Mr. Yeltsin’s response was brutal.

Even more so was his invasion the next year of Chechnya, which, while
failing to crush an independence movement, destroyed the republic, killed
tens of thousands and set the stage for an even bloodier war by Mr. Putin.

In 1996, Mr. Yeltsin won a second free election for president, but only
after striking a corrupt deal with a group of businessmen who financed his
campaign in exchange for being allowed to take control of some of Russia’s
biggest companies.

Often ill or seemingly drunk, he allowed corruption and disorder to flourish
in and outside of government and embarrassed Russians with his pratfalls.

Mr. Yeltsin’s final sin was to hand the presidency in December 1999 to Mr.
Putin, a product of the same KGB that had attempted the coup of 1991.

It may be that Mr. Yeltsin, exhausted and besieged by opponents, had little
choice; the move may have spared him and his family from impeachment and

But in the following seven years Mr. Putin has extinguished most of the
liberal reforms his predecessor battled for. Once again elections in Russia
are a Potemkin fraud, almost all the media follow government orders and
dissidents are beaten in the streets, or worse.

Moscow again has imperial pretensions. Mr. Putin has tried to annex Belarus
and force other neighbors to become Kremlin satellites.

A cynic might ask whether today’s Russia is much different from what it
would have been had Mr. Yeltsin not mounted his tank and the 1991 coup had

Yet some of his achievements are surely irreversible — the freedom of the
Baltic states, the creation of a Russian business class that lives by

There is, too, the memory of the unfettered society Mr. Yeltsin presided
over — a time of chaos and misery for many, but also of free speech, free
association and free elections.

For now most Russians seem to approve of Mr. Putin’s authoritarian remedy
for the chaos. In time, they may embrace the aspirations for freedom that
Mr. Yeltsin embodied at his best.                               -30-
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12.                  THE LIFE OF YELTSIN: BYE-BYE BORIS
                                  Boris Yeltsin, a flawed hero, has died

From, London, UK, Monday, April 23, 2007

BORIS NIKOLAYEVICH YELTSIN helped to destroy the Soviet Union and

did much to bring Russia’s democracy into existence. The former construction
engineer was not a great builder of institutions; the democracy was flawed. But
he had the right instincts.

For liberating Russians from the yoke of the one-party state and the planned
economy, he deserves immense gratitude. Yet his nepotistic and capricious
rule spawned colossal lawlessness and corruption, paving the way for his
authoritarian successor, Vladimir Putin.

Born in 1931, Mr Yeltsin was a loyal provincial Communist, bulldozing the
Ipatiev house in Sverdlovsk (now, again, Yekaterinburg) where the last tsar’s
family was murdered.

Promoted to Moscow party chief under Mikhail Gorbachev, he showed a
revolutionary popular touch. Communist chieftains shunned the people. Mr
Yeltsin mixed with them, sharing their fury about the shortages and
indignities of daily life.

In 1987 Mr Gorbachev fired him, after an outburst that included direct
criticism of the Soviet leader’s wife, Raisa: even in the burgeoning
atmosphere of glasnost [openness], that was still taboo. Mr Yeltsin
retreated to the shadows, only to return in 1990 as president of the Russian

Russia’s statehood had been as nominal as those of other Soviet Socialist
Republics such as Ukraine or Kazakhstan. But as the Baltic republics started
galloping towards freedom, with Mr Yeltsin’s enthusiastic support, that
changed. Could the Russian Federation too one day become a proper country?

It soon did. When bumbling Communist party hardliners mounted a coup against
the Soviet leadership in 1991, it was Mr Yeltsin, denouncing the putschists
while perched on a tank, who symbolised the successful democratic

When Mr Gorbachev returned to Moscow from his seaside captivity, he found

Mr Yeltsin in charge. The Russian leader humiliatingly gave his former boss a
decree to read out acknowledging the new order.

As the other 14 Soviet republics digested their independence, Mr Yeltsin
appointed a short-lived government of young reformers, led by Yegor Gaidar,
who unleashed breakneck economic reform on the ruined country. It was

deeply unpopular: price liberalisation made evident the destruction of savings
under Soviet inflation.

Privatisation meant a field day for robber barons. The institutions needed
for a properly functioning market economy were pitifully lacking. It was in
the Yeltsin era that the world learnt the term “oligarch”, to describe the
overmighty tycoons who fused political and economic power.

Yet those reforms worked. Russia has a booming consumer-goods market.

The robber barons were a lot better than the “red directors” they replaced,
whose thinking and loyalties were still rooted in the Communist-run planned

If the economic reforms now look better than they seemed at the time, his
political failures look worse. Shelling Russia’s parliament in 1993,
supposedly to dislodge Communist and other hardline deputies who had seized
control there, reintroduced the virus of violence into Russian political

So did the shameful Chechen war of 1994-96, which unleashed the might of the
Russian war machine on the small breakaway republic. His rigged victory over
the Communist Gennady Zyuganov in the 1996 presidential election spawned a
habit of official vote-rigging that has largely destroyed the credibility of
Russian elections.

His mistakes were greatest when prompted by his family and their cronies.
While keeping the old man topped up with vodka, they hijacked Russia’s
political and economic destiny, enriching themselves and discrediting both
democracy and capitalism in the eyes of millions of outraged and
contemptuous citizens.

All the same, Mr Yeltsin stood for three fundamental principles.

     [1] He believed in freedom of speech, including freedom of the press,
          no matter what.
     [2] He wanted Russia to be friends with the west.
     [3] And he despised the Communist party and everything it stood
          for-particularly the KGB. It was a tragedy that he did not dissolve
          it fully in 1991, when he had the chance.

It was an irony that the candidate his family chose as a safe successor, the
cautious, little-known ex-KGB man, Mr Putin, should have done so much to
reverse his legacy, blaming so many of Russia’s ills on what he calls the
“chaos” of the 1990s.

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Alexander Panetta, Canadian Press, Ottawa, Tuesday, April 24, 2007

OTTAWA  – Two Canadian prime ministers remember Boris Yeltsin as a
larger-than-life figure – with a booming character, big dreams, and a
bone-rattling handshake.

To Jean Chretien and Brian Mulroney, he was not only the man who hastened
the death of Soviet communism by climbing aboard a tank in a historic act of

He was also the hard-partying Russian colleague who guzzled copious
quantities of bubbly during a birthday party at 24 Sussex, and who engaged
in public arm-twisting contests with fellow world leaders.

Chretien saluted his bravery during the 1991 coup attempt when he met
hardline communist forces outside the Russian parliament and strode onto one
of their tanks.

“He must have been minutes away from dying,” Chretien told The Canadian
Press. “That will be remembered as a great moment for democracy in my

Mulroney described his former colleague as a powerful figure who – unlike
his predecessor, Mikhail Gorbachev – believed strongly that the only way
forward for Russia was a complete break with communism.

He also recalled a Yeltsin visit to Ottawa in 1992 which happened to
coincide with his birthday. Mila Mulroney made a birthday cake and served

up a profusion of champagne.

“Let me just tell you that he celebrated his birthday in fine, fine fashion.
He knew how to do it, too,” Mulroney said outside his Montreal office.  “He
enjoyed his own birthday more than I can tell you.”

That larger-than-life quality extended to the power of his handshake.
Chretien described how impressed he was by the massive paw of the man

once described by Bill Clinton as a polar bear.

Even as he struggled with the effects of alcoholism, and amid reports he was
ailing, Yeltsin arrived at a G8 meeting in 1999 and fared well against
Chretien in a playful tug-of-war.

“I’m in reasonably good shape for a guy of my age. But for a guy who was
supposed to be sick, it was impressive to see the physical strength of the
guy at that moment,” Chretien said.

He recalled how then-U.S. president Bill Clinton looked on and joked: “Look,
the two polar bears are fighting down there.”

Chretien proudly described how he invited Yeltsin to participate in a G7
meeting in Halifax in 1995, before Russia formally joined the group of the
world’s most powerful democracies.

Chretien said he’s disappointed by the slow progress of Russian democracy,
as evidenced by recent crackdowns on opponents of President Vladimir Putin.

“They’re not going as fast to establish what we call Western standards of
democracy as I wish they would. But they’ve made a lot of progress,” he

“I think it’s slower than we were hoping, but I always said to be the
president of Russia is probably the toughest political job in the world.”
Harder than being prime minister of Canada? Chretien laughs at the question.

Seated in the giant corner office of his law firm – one decorated with Inuit
carvings, family photos, and a framed picture of him golfing with Clinton –
Chretien gestures toward an old sandstone building a block away.

He waves his hand toward the Prime Minister’s Office and says its occupant
has it easy compared to Russia’s president.

“Oh, no match. Easy,” he says, motioning toward his old office. “Here it’s
nothing compared to (Russia’s) problems.”

Mulroney agreed that introducing democracy to Russia is no easy task and
avoided criticizing the country’s current leadership.

“Russia has no tradition of democratic freedoms. For a thousand years it was
governed by autocrats and czars – so freedom, liberty and democracy are
concepts they are just starting to get familiar with,” Mulroney said in a
telephone interview.

“In that perspective I feel that Putin, who followed in Yeltsin’s footsteps,
who followed in Gorbachev’s, have done extremely well.”

Chretien recalled the personal relationship between his wife Aline, and
Yeltsin’s spouse, Naina. He said the women shared a tearful embrace on two
occasions – once during a Second World War memorial, and once while
listening to a traditional French-Canadian song at an Acadian festival.

Chretien recalled shooting pool with Yeltsin at his home in Russia in 2004,
once both had retired from politics, noting that Yeltsin looked better after
having given up his well-publicized vodka habit.

Both prime ministers cited their own blue-collar origins as a source of
common kinship with their Russian colleague. Mulroney described how he once
went hunting and fishing with Yeltsin outside his country retreat and ate a
meal in a forest – one the Russian leader cooked himself in an in-ground

“He was a generous host – funny and entertaining, and free with his comments
about world leaders whom he liked, and some he didn’t,” Mulroney said. He
said someone who grew up in a Quebec mining town like he did would instantly
feel comfortable with Yeltsin.

Chretien – who also grew up in a small, working-class Quebec town – had a
similar view. “He started at the bottom, and worked his way to the top. He
was no aristocrat,” he said with a smile.  “I believe people said the same
about me.”                                                  -30-

[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]

Alexander Panetta, Canadian Press,
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Thursday, April 19, 2007

OTTAWA –  Stephen Harper lavished praise on a predecessor who
was once a bitter rival but who now serves as his political inspiration:
Brian Mulroney.

The current prime minister paid tribute Wednesday to the former at

an event honouring Mulroney for his 1991 recognition of Ukrainian

In those days, Harper had just bolted from Mulroney’s Conservative party to
help spearhead the Reform movement.

Today, he hopes to emulate Mulroney’s political success by leading the newly
formed Conservatives back to the hallowed land of majority government.

Harper described his predecessor as a visionary who is only now being
recognized for successes that once went ignored.

He cited free trade, the environment, and the fight against communism as
areas where Mulroney showed historic leadership.

“That’s the way it is with real, effective leaders,” Harper told 400 guests
in a hotel ballroom. “While in office, they set clear goals.

“Then they (see) them through against attacks motivated by misunderstanding,
misinformation or just plain old political opportunism. “And, in due time,
they are recognized and rewarded. So it is with Brian Mulroney.”

Harper drew parallels between Mulroney’s government and his own.
The prime minister said Canada is showing leadership in the world by
fighting terrorists in Afghanistan, and by becoming the first country to
strip funding from the Hamas-led Palestinian government.

He compared that to the days following Ukraine’s declaration of independence
from the Soviet Union in August 1991.

Harper said at the time, some around Mulroney’s cabinet table suggested
Canada should take a cautious approach and wait to see what other countries

“(But) Brian Mulroney disagreed. Under his leadership Canada took a stand,”
Harper said. “We stood against oppression. We stood for freedom. . .

“You can rest assured . . . that Canada’s new government will uphold this

Harper mentioned Mulroney in the same breath as Ronald Reagan, Margaret
Thatcher and the late pope John Paul as world leaders in the fight against

Mulroney gave a stirring speech that called immigration – from Ukraine and
around the world – the source of energy and creativity that makes Canada a
great nation.

He described a conversation with Soviet leader Mikhael Gorbachev in 1991,
where he explained why he would proceed with recognizing Ukraine even
before the U.S. did. He said he owed it to Ukrainians in Canada, and to
those struggling for freedom in their homeland.

“I told (Gorbachev) directly and bluntly that the forces of freedom were
burning in Ukraine,” Mulroney said.

“And I was going to encourage them, not extinguish them. . . We did what

we believed was right, and I believe history may prove that we were.”

On domestic politics, Mulroney alluded to Harper’s ambitions. In the same
breath he took a dig at the only other living Conservative who was elected
as prime minister: Joe Clark.

Mulroney began with a reference to the length of his own term in office.
“Nine years . . . That’s not a bad thing, Stephen. It’s a nice, round
number. It beats the hell out of nine months,” Mulroney said.

Clark – who was a leadership rival to Mulroney and who does not support the
new Conservative party under Harper – saw his minority government collapse
in 1979 after only nine months.

Harper’s praise of Mulroney was a far cry from 1991. Back then, Harper had
been an office assistant to a Progressive Conservative MP from Alberta and
defected in order to run against his former boss under the upstart Reform
party banner.

Harper and other new Reformers considered the old Tories as too liberal, too
Quebec-obsessed, and too indifferent to the economic challenges facing

There was an ironic and visual reminder at Wednesday’s event of the 15-year
split in the Conservative movement.

In a downstairs ballroom at the Chateau Laurier hotel, Mulroney was awarded
the Order of Kniaz Yaroslav the Wise – the highest honour Ukraine’s
government can bestow on a foreigner.

While Harper was toasting his new political role model downstairs, his old
political ally was at a separate event in the same building.

Reform founder Preston Manning was attending a gala for the small-c
conservative think tank named after him. Harper made a brief visit to the
Manning event. The two men posed for pictures with their wives, and the
prime minister moved on to the gala in the downstairs ballroom.

[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]
Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC)
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Tuesday, April 24, 2007

At an April 18, 2007 banquet organized by the Ukrainian Canadian
Congress and with the patronage of the Ukrainian Embassy Canada’s 18th
Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney was honoured with the highest
award that can be bestowed by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, the
“Shevchenko Medal:” and the highest honour Ukraine can extend to a
foreign citizen, the prestigious  “Order of Kniaz Yaroslav the Wise.”

These special awards – presented in the presence of current Prime
Minister Stephen Harper and 14 of his cabinet colleagues as well as
numerous parliamentarians, Ambassador Ihor Ostash, former Premier of
Saskatchewan Roy Romanow, Archbishop Yurij of the Ukrainian Orthodox
Church of Canada, Bishop Stephen Chmilar of the Ukrainian Catholic
Church – were made to commemorate the decision of Brian

Mulroney’s government to make Canada the first western government
and only the second in the world to recognize the independence of
Ukraine in December 1991.

Additionally, Ukrainian Canadians remember that Brian Mulroney appointed
the first Ukrainian Canadian, John Sopinka, to the Supreme Court of
Canada and it was under his government that the first Ukrainian
Canadian, Ramon Hnatyshyn became the Head of State as Governor

Mr. Mulroney called two Ukrainian Canadians from the Province of
Saskatchewan to the Senate of Canada, David Tkachuk and Raynell

Over 400 guests gathered at Ottawa’s Cha^teau Laurier Hotel witnessed
UCC President Orysia Sushko presented the award to Mr. Mulroney.
Earlier, the Ukrainian Ambassador Ihor Ostash had awarded him the
prestigious Order of Kniaz Yaroslav the Wise on behalf of the President
of Ukraine.

The importance of Mr. Mulroney recognizing Ukraine is very much
understood and appreciated in Ukraine. The ceremony was reported on
Ukrainian television the following day. Visit the UCC website to see the
footage from 5 Kanal.

The fact that such a large and important gathering of Ottawa decision
makers was present at this event shows the importance that Canada places
in its relationship with Ukraine and the acknowledgement that Canadians
of Ukrainian descent have played and will continue to play a significant
role in Canada’s development.

There was a large turn out of national media at the banquet, impressing
even long-time observers of the political scene in Ottawa. Indeed, it is
doubtful if in the entire history of the Ukrainian community in Canada there
has ever been such a high-powered assembly of politicians and journalists
at a UCC sponsored gathering.

UCC Board member Bob Onyschuk related to the assembled audience how
Mr. Mulroney while in Kyiv in 1989 made a point of making a gesture of
moral support to the emerging Ukrainian national liberation movement by
meeting with pro-Independence protestors in front of the Taras
Shevchenko monument.

In his acceptance remarks, Mr. Mulroney cited the contribution of
Canadians of Ukrainian descent to the development of Canada and the
importance that his government put to supporting democracy and national
self-determination of the people of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

Money raised at the banquet will go to support the “Children’s Hospital
of the Future” project in Kyiv, Ukraine. This is an undertaking of the
Ukraina 3000 Foundation. Senator Raynell Andreychuk and Northland Power
President James Temerty served as Masters of Ceremony for the event.
Ostap Skrypnyk, Executive Director, Ukrainian Canadian Congress,
[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]


Office of the Prime Minister, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Wed, 18 Apr 2007

Prime Minister Stephen Harper celebrated the historic ties between Canada
and Ukraine at a tribute dinner for the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney,
hosted by the Ukrainian Embassy and the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

No western country has closer ties to Ukraine than Canada, Prime Minister
Harper said. A century ago, when settlers from all over the world were
arriving into the Canadian prairies, Ukrainians were one of the largest
immigrant groups.

There are over a million Canadians of Ukrainian heritage today, and they
have made their mark in every part of Canada, in every field of endeavour.

Prime Minister Harper applauded Ukraine President Victor Yushchenko for
awarding the Order of King Yaroslav the Wise to Mr. Mulroney.

The award recognizes the former Prime Ministers role in supporting Ukraines
Declaration of Independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and in fostering
positive Canada-Ukraine relations.

Under Mr. Mulroneys leadership Canada was the first country to recognize
Ukrainian independence. Our country stood with the brave people of Ukraine,
of the Baltic republics and the other captive nations of central and eastern
Europe, Prime Minister Harper said. Today they are free people living in
free nations. And they are grateful to the strong western leaders who stood
firm against the Communists and their apologists.

Ukrainians can rest assured, the Prime Minister concluded, that Canadas New
Government will continue to support Ukraines right to determine her own
destiny.                                                      -30-

[return to index] [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]
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return to index [Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service]

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