“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 itself. 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. The remainder of Martin Wolf’s column can be read here (FT.com subscribers only). Discussion from our guest economists is free.
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