Putin inaugurates museum honouring ex-leader Yeltsin

25th November 2015, Comments 0 comments

Late Russian leader Boris Yeltsin's "nuclear button" briefcase went on display Wednesday as a major new museum devoted to the legacy of Russia's first president opened in the Urals.

Russian President Vladimir Putin -- whom an ailing Yeltsin anointed as his heir on New Year's Eve 1999 with the words "Take care of Russia" -- unveiled the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Centre in the former leader's home city of Yekaterinburg in the Ural mountains.

Putin called the museum a "tribute to the memory of Russia's first president" and the radical change the country went through in the 1990s.

"I remember the words of Boris Nikolaevich that the whole country now knows: 'Take care of Russia,'" Putin said at the ceremony.

"They were addressed to all of us, the current and future generations. Boris Nikolaevich wanted our country to be strong, prosperous and happy. We have already done a lot to achieve those goals."

Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev laid flowers at a monument to Yeltsin and toured the museum accompanied by his widow Naina and daughter Tatyana Yumasheva.

The Boris Yeltsin centre showcases Yeltsin's pivotal role in ushering in free-market policies after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but public opinion remains broadly negative eight years after his death.

"It's wonderful that we will be launching such a tradition -- a tradition of respect for a president who stepped down and his legacy," his widow Naina Yeltsina told Moskovsky Komsomolets tabloid.

Yeltsin led Russia from 1991 to 1999 before stepping aside and nominating his protege Putin, then a little-known spy boss, to succeed him.

He died in 2007 at the age of 76.

-'The most dramatic moments'-

The museum recreates Yeltsin's Kremlin office with the original furniture and row of rotary dial telephones.

In a glass case sits the famous briefcase, which had a button inside authorizing the use of nuclear weapons -- now with the electronics removed.

Exhibits that aim to immerse visitors in the atmosphere of the 1990s include mockups of an empty grocery store and a living room with the ballet Swan Lake playing on loop on state television, as happened in 1991 when Soviet hardliners staged a failed coup.

After winning public support at the barricades that year, Yeltsin came to power with an ambitious agenda of unpopular reforms.

But his heavy drinking and heart problems tarnished his reputation and his approval ratings fell to single figures.

Among the politicians interviewed for videos shown in the exhibition was Yeltsin's former first deputy prime minister, Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was gunned down in Moscow in February.

"He was a rebel, Yeltsin," said Nemtsov.

"I can't say he was very up on political and economic theory, but he understood in practice all the stupidity of the Soviet planned system."

Yeltsin's daughter Yumasheva, who was one of his most trusted advisors, told TASS state news agency the centre aimed "to tell the truth about the 1990s", from the constitutional and economic crises of the day to the first Chechen War.

The museum's website quotes Yeltsin as saying that thanks to him, "Russia will now never go back to the past."

A Levada poll in December found just 11 percent of Russians rated Yeltsin positively, while 40 percent said they viewed him negatively. The rest took a neutral view or gave not answer.

© 2015 AFP

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