Former Russian president Boris
Yeltsin, who buried the Soviet Union then led Russia through its chaotic first
years of independence, died yesterday aged 76, the Kremlin said.
|Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks as former
Russian president Boris Yeltsin (R) smiles in Moscow in this June 12, 2004
file photo. Yeltsin has died, according to Interfax April 23, 2007.
"Today, at 15:45 (1145 GMT) Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin died in the Central
Clinical Hospital as a result of a deteriorating cardio-vascular problem," said a Kremlin spokeswoman.
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet president, whom Yeltsin effectively forced
from office, paid tribute to his achievements, and noted his shortcomings. "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,"
Yeltsin had for years been dogged by heart problems that required
multiple heart bypass surgery while
he was still in office. His deteriorating health ultimately forced him to anoint
Vladimir Putin as his successor and step aside seven years ago.
Yeltsin ruled Russia from 1991 to the last day of 1999, when he handed over
power to Putin. He was the first Russian leader to step down voluntarily.
Born into a poor peasant family in an industrial region in the Ural
mountains, Yeltsin lived with his family in one room of a wooden hut.
He studied civil engineering and rose to become a successful construction
manager before switching to work for the local Communist party.
Gorbachev, looking for thrusting managers to re-invigorate Soviet rule,
summoned him to Moscow to become the capital's party chief. He was sacked for
his maverick style but in 1989 he was elected to the new Soviet Congress of
People's Deputies and in June 1991 he was elected president of Russia - still
within the Soviet Union - in a landslide.
Two months later, he faced down tanks in the Moscow streets, and six months
after that, he signed a treaty with the leaders of Ukraine and Belarus
disintegrating the Soviet Union altogether. Yeltsin, triumphant, became
president of a sovereign Russia.
World leaders responded quickly yesterday to Yeltsin's death, calling him a
personal friend and praising him as a courageous fighter during the Soviet
Union's dramatic change that marked the end of the Cold War.
The European Union and the NATO alliance hailed Yeltsin as a healer of the
Cold War divide.