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Simon Sebag Montefiore says that the Russian leader was both hero and buffoon, a democrat who failed to safeguard freedom against the return of the KGB in the form of Vladimir Putin
A few months ago I asked a Kremlin grandee, who worked with both Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin, which president of Russia he preferred. I expected him to favour the warm but shambolic Yeltsin rather than the competent but icy Putin. I was wrong. 'The difference, ' he explained, 'is that Yeltsin was a capricious Tsar; Putin's a practical politician.' But who, I asked was the more lovable? 'Putin, ' he replied, 'because he's always direct and he keeps his word.' His words returned to me when I heard on Monday that Yeltsin had died. Yeltsin's style of tsardom - impulsive, bombastic, secretive, drunken - meant inconsistency and insecurity for even his closest aides, never mind his own people.
Yet for all his flamboyance and recklessness, and for all the colossal mistakes, Yeltsin was a giant. He was a contradictory caricature of the Russian peasant, a sort of proletarian populist Peter the Great who also veered between impulsive reform and alcoholic buffoonery, but with this difference: …