Photo/Illutration Boris Yeltsin at the airport in Minsk in Dec. 30, 1991 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Boris Yeltsin, the first president of Russia, died 15 years ago today. He was 76.

Still fresh in my memory is an image of Yeltsin on the eve of the collapse of the Soviet Union. During a failed coup staged by conservative hardliners in August 1991, Yeltsin climbed atop a tank in front of the Russian Parliament building and condemned the attempt to seize power, urging the assembled crowd to resist.

Headstrong and short-tempered, Yeltsin loved vodka.

He also possessed a uniquely impish streak.

When he came to Japan in spring 1998 for a summit, a wedding reception was in progress at the hotel where the meeting was being held. Yeltsin crashed the party and wished the newlyweds well, receiving thunderous cheers and applause.

Born into a poor farming family in Ural in 1931, his political career was turbulent. It included a defeat in his power struggle with Mikhail Gorbachev, who was born in the same year.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union cannot be discussed without the part played by “Yeltsin the destroyer.” But as the leader of newborn Russia, he continued to muddle through, and by many accounts made the people’s daily lives harder than during the Soviet era.

In the final stages of his administration when even his close aides came under investigation of corruption, the state-run broadcaster abruptly reported a sex scandal allegedly involving Russian Prosecutor-General Yuri I. Skuratov.

Shown an image of a man in bed with two women, Skuratov vehemently denied he was the individual.

However, the then-head of the Federal Security Service pronounced the image “legitimate,” discrediting Skuratov and ending the investigations.

Four months later, Yeltsin named this FSS chief the prime minister of Russia.

And that was Vladimir Putin, until then a political nobody.

“He was so cool and collected, I was wary of him at first,” Yeltsin would later state. “But that was the personality he was born with.” He went on to assert, “There was no mistake that this was the man who could be entrusted with the future of our nation.”

These words of glowing praise revealed Yeltsin’s complete faith in Putin, who was 20 years his junior.

The man who was thus hand-picked has thrown the world into turmoil.

On this anniversary of Yeltsin’s death, one does not have to be a Ukrainian citizen to be reminded of the disastrous consequences of this transition of power.

--The Asahi Shimbun, April 23

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.