Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 6 Issue: 20

Perhaps the biggest political event of the fortnight did not involve President Vladimir Putin, at least directly. It was Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, who was suddenly back in the spotlight, thanks to the publication of “A Presidential Marathon,” the latest installment of his memoirs, which was also released in English under the title “Midnight Diaries.” Yeltsin marked the book’s publication with a big party in Moscow that included a host of political noteworthies. They included Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and two of his predecessors, Viktor Chernomyrdin and Sergei Stepashin (in the book, Yeltsin calls Stepashin “soft” and given to “theatrical gestures”) and two of the country’s more elusive “oligarchs–oil baron and State Duma deputy Roman Abramovich and Moscow banker Aleksandr Mamut. At the same time the Yeltsin book party was taking place, Putin and his inner circle were in St. Petersburg, celebrating the current Russian president’s birthday.

It may have been simply a coincidence that the events fell on the same day. But some Russian observers saw the Yeltsin event, specifically, and the appearance of his memoirs, more generally, as at least in part an attempt by Yeltsin and his inner circle, known as the “Family,” to remind the new Kremlin occupant of the key role they played in his rise to power and to make it clear that they expected his continued gratitude. At the same time, Yeltsin, both in his book and in the flurry of press interviews in both Russia and the West which accompanied its publication, made it clear that he had not picked Putin to be his successor on a whim, and that he had no regrets in his choice. “I searched for such a politician for a very long time, throughout the final years of my presidency,” Yeltsin told the magazine Ogonek. He called Putin “a young, energetic, powerful politician who has proven in deed his devotion to democracy and market reforms and simultaneously to state-patriotic traditions.”