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Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin Dies of Heart Failure


Russia's first freely elected president, Boris Yeltsin, has died of heart failure at the age of 76. VOA's Lisa Mcadams in Moscow reports on initial reaction to Mr. Yeltsin's death:

A Kremlin spokesman announced word of the former president's death just as many Russians were making their way home from work.

Among the first to react to the news was former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, whom Yeltsin replaced in 1991. He said Mr. Yeltsin did a lot for Russia, even though, Gorbachev added, he committed serious errors.

Former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin credited Mr. Yeltsin with preventing a civil war in Russia, and risking himself and his career, when he stood atop a tank outside the Russian White House to resist an attempted Soviet coup in August, 1991.

Stepashin urged Russians to remember the good work done by Yeltsin - work that pushed Russia to embrace democracy and a free-market economy.

But Viktor Kremenyuk of the U.S.-Canada Institute told VOA he thinks that for the majority of Russians, Yeltsin's death will go largely unnoticed.

"Maybe there will be some ritual memories and another glass of vodka. But otherwise, I do not think that the people really remember him for anything. His rule is associated with disorder, with favoritism, with some drastic moves, which led to nothing. I mean the shooting of the parliament, the war in Chechnya, I mean the economic crisis in 1998. For the people, you know, they did not bring any relief into their life," he said.

But Kremenyuk credits Mr. Yeltsin with plucking a then-unknown Vladimir Putin to be his successor as president, after his dramatic New Year's Eve resignation at the end of 1999. Kremenyuk says that decision by Mr. Yeltsin has proved popular among Russians.

Visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who earlier held talks with President Putin in Moscow, offered his condolences to the Russian people. He described Mr. Yeltsin as an important figure in history.

Mr. Yeltsin is survived by his wife, Naina, two daughters and several grandchildren. Funeral Plans are pending.