Russia's past and present collide at ceremony to honor former leader

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 25, 2015 3:34 PM

By Denis Dyomkin

YEKATERINBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday inaugurated a museum dedicated to Boris Yeltsin, the former president whose legacy, many former Yeltsin associates say, Putin has spent the past 15 years dismantling.

When an ailing and unpopular Yeltsin announced on New Year's Eve 1999 that he was stepping down, he anointed Putin as his successor but since then the Russian leader has distanced himself from his predecessor.

The ceremony to inaugurate the museum threw up some awkward moments when memories of the Yeltsin era -- a period of dismantling Soviet rule, embracing the West and rushing headlong to a market economy -- rubbed up against the different realities of Putin's Russia.

The museum, to be called the Yeltsin Centre, is in the Ural mountains city of Yekaterinburg, where the former Russian leader spent much of his life.

In a speech at the museum, Putin said the years of Yeltsin's rule had been "contradictory," marked by major achievements but also by mistakes.

Putin has in the past called the dismantling of the Soviet Union, a process in which Yeltsin was the driving force, the greatest geo-political tragedy of the 20th century.

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He said though that Yeltsin has Russia's best interests at heart.

"Boris Nikolayevich (Yeltsin) wanted our country to be strong, flourishing, happy," Putin said in front of an audience that included Yeltsin's wife and daughter, and many former Yeltsin associates who now accuse Putin of rolling back democratic freedoms.

"We've already made a lot of progress toward achieving those goals, we've overcome a lot of difficulties, and we will definitely resolve the challenges that remain."

(Writing by Christian Lowe)