Boris Yeltsin was a larger than life figure and a controversial one. Analysts disagree over his legacy. Supporters praise the role he played in defeating the Soviet establishment and bringing democracy to the nation. But his detractors say his rule made a small group of businessmen – the oligarchs -incredibly rich, while the people grew ever poorer. “Many other people will remember Yeltsin for the time of the unruly 90’s, the economic hardships and crises, and galloping inflation, for the financial crises of the oligarchs tearing Russia to pieces,” said analyst Pavel Felgenhauer.
When Yeltsin chased Gorbachev out of the Kremlin, he opened the way for a free-market economy. Washington and the IMF applauded. Men like Boris Berezovsky, Khodorkovsky and Goussinski made huge Rockefeller-like fortunes during Yeltsin’s time in power.
Together, they held Russia to ransom. They set up banks, newspapers and television channels in the country. In an interview with the Financial Times in 1996, financier Boris Berezovsky revealed a group of seven bankers bank-rolled the head of state’s campaign for re-election. Berezovsky added the same seven controlled half the economy.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for the people who were losing their life savings. The economic crisis of August 1998 sounded a death knell for Yeltsin. The rouble lost three quarters of its value and Russia defaulted on billions of dollars of debt. This led to panic among Russians and in Western financial circles. And who governed Russia during this time? Some say the president’s daughter Tatiana Yeltsin pulled the strings with the backing of the ruthless Berezovsky.
The entourage dedicated themselves to a new battle to gain power, and looked for an heir-apparent who would protect their interests after Yeltsin’s departure. This man was Vladimir Putin. Yeltsin abdicated on the eve of 2000. Putin signed a decree granting full immunity to the old head of state and his family. But it was the only element of Yeltsin’s heritage truly respected by Putin during his own presidency.