Boris Yeltsin

Brash and volatile, he led the revolution that created Russian democracy. Then his inept rule handed power back to foes of reform

Itar / Tass / Reuters

Russia's former President Boris Yeltsin addresses a meeting as he stands on a tank in this August 19, 1991 file photo. Yeltsin died on Monday, April 23, 2007.

Boris Yeltsin didn't often speak with foreign journalists, and when he did, it was obvious he couldn't stand us.

In 1993, as Yeltsin hit the campaign trail before a referendum on his leadership, I spent days trying to get close to the Russian President. Finally, in the bleak coal-mining region of Kuzbass, I slipped past his bodyguards and stood face to face with Russia's most perplexing figure--the leader who promised reform but later opened fire on his own Parliament, the man on whom the U.S. put all its chips even as Moscow handed the country's assets to a new class of...

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