CAIRO: Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin has died at the age of 76, the Kremlin confirmed yesterday. The cause of death has not been announced but Yeltsin was a notoriously heavy drinker and suffered five heart attacks while in office.
Yeltsin was a controversial figure throughout his two terms as the first president of the Russian Federation. Coverage on BBC World revealed that many Russians, before learning of his death, were very critical of the former president for his domestic policies which included radical economic reforms, blamed for much of the country’s decline in living standards and increasing poverty.
His occasional public outbursts of drunkenness and forgetfulness were also widely publicized.
Yeltsin will be remembered for some of his aggressive tactics while in office. In 1993, he was nearly impeached by the Supreme Soviet and Congress of People s Deputies when he announced he would assume “special powers to implement reforms. Just one month later, Yeltsin sent tanks and troops to storm Russia s parliament building to flush out opponents angry about worsening economic conditions.
In 1994, Yeltsin launched a war against separatists in the southern republic of Chechnya, during which thousands of people were killed.
Still, he was embraced by the West for his ushering in of democracy and a market economy, and before that by Russians under the Communist era for pledging to fight corruption. He championed free speech and free press, private property, and multiparty elections, and opened the borders to trade and travel. He also forced Russians to confront shameful acts committed in the name of Communism.
Yeltsin’s erratic behavior was also sometimes legendary. In August of 1991, he stood atop a tank to resist an attempted coup, and organized the peaceful end to the Soviet state later that year.
Throughout his final years in office, Yeltsin was increasingly absent and absent-minded. In a dramatic and surprising New Year’s address in 1999, he announced his resignation. I want to beg forgiveness for your dreams that never came true. And also I would like to beg forgiveness not to have justified your hopes, he said.
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. Additional reporting from AP