|The image of Boris Yeltsin that will forever be burned in my mind is of him standing beside President Bill Clinton at a press conference, both laughing hysterically, to the point that each was as red as a beet. I don't even remember what they were laughing about, but it was striking to see an American and a Russian president, not only side by side, but behaving like old friends, sharing a belly laugh. Both men were given to their excesses -- Bill with women, Boris with the bottle. Both endured troubled times in their presidencies, and controversies. And Yeltsin, like Clinton, had a mixed legacy (in his case, mainly regarding the failure to stem the corruption that flooded in amid the wake of the Soviet fall.) But the idea of the two men becoming fast friends was emblematic of a sea change in U.S. -Russian relationships after the fall of the Soviet Union. Here was the new era, not of detente, but of friendship.
Those days seem long gone now that Russia has moved onto its second elected president, Yeltsin's hand picked successor Vladimir Putin, who is as retrograde and humorless as Yeltsin was jocular and approachable. The Russian leaders that I can remember -- Brezhnev and Gorbachev (Yeltsin's predecessor, who battled Ronald Reagan, and the last Russian president), Yeltsin and Putin, cut such different characters, and represented such massively different moments in our history with the Russo-Soviet post empire. What a shame that the current American president so misread the current Russian president, and that the Russian president has chosen to take his country so far backward.
Boris Yeltsin, the man who ushered in Russia's democratic president, and became its first democratically elected president, has died at age 76. Rest in peace, Mr. Yeltsin.
Related: The fall of the U.S.S.R.
Labels: Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin, Russia, Soviet Union