khr2_Wojtek LaskiGetty Images_boris yeltsin Wojtek Laski/Getty Images

Deconstructing Yeltsin

To commemorate its founding 25 years ago, PS will be republishing over the coming months a selection of commentaries written since 1994. In the following commentary from 1998, Nina Khrushcheva argues that rather than regard Boris Yeltsin’s behavior as erratic, we should recognize it as a declaration that he remains strong and powerful, and plans to occupy high office for years to come. He didn’t, but does it hold true for Putin?

PRINCETON – Around the world, commentators fondly insist that Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s relations with reality are episodic, unpredictable, erratic, and maybe even insane. Sacking his entire cabinet when everyone though he was home sick in bed only reinforced this impression. But those who subscribe to it are very wrong.

True, Yeltsin is not the healthiest president Russia has ever had. But his dismissal of his government is neither strange nor the result of illness. It is, however, very Russian. The sheer “Russianness” of Russia’s president should not be hard for outsiders to grasp. The problem is that the world has misinterpreted Yeltsin for years.

By declaring himself anti-communist a decade ago, Yeltsin earned the nearly unconditional support of the United States and the rest of the West. But being a democrat does not make Yeltsin any less Russian. Every time he does something typically Russian, the world (the US most of all) seems genuinely stunned. Rash and rushed attempts are made to explain away his behavior as the result of bad advisers, old age, failing health, and/or feeble mental capacity.

25 years of the World's Opinion Page

Project Syndicate celebrates its 25th anniversary with PS 25, a collection of our hardest-hitting commentaries so far.

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