An Ambiguous Legacy

Boris the Not-So-Great.

Issue: Summer 2000

 Leon Aron, Yeltsin: A Revolutionary Life (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000).

Has any peacetime political leader ever brought his country as low as Boris Yeltsin brought Russia, a former superpower turned into a mendicant? The old Soviet economy may have been creaking noticeably, but it hardly compares to the shambles that is the Russian marketplace today. Whereas the militia and the KGB formerly kept order in the streets (and everywhere else), there is now soaring crime and ubiquitous corruption. The army, once feared around the world, can no longer even put down minor insurrections within Russia's reduced frontiers. The communist leaders of the old USSR had their grave flaws, but at least they behaved with a measure of decorum. They did not appear in public intoxicated, as Yeltsin did during a state visit to Germany in 1994, snatching the baton from the conductor of the Berlin Police Orchestra and attempting to lead the musicians, embarrassing himself and his country before the world.

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