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Putin inaugurates Yeltsin museum

President Putin praised his mentor Boris Yeltsin in a speech opening the museum dedicated to the former Russian president. The exhibits illustrated the complicated legacy of the first leader of post-Soviet Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was on hand in the Ural mountain city of Yekaterinburg on Wednesday to inaugurate a new museum dedicated to Boris Yeltsin. Among the items on display was the late president's "nuclear button" briefcase.

Speaking from Yeltsin's hometown, Putin reminded the country of the request an ailing Yeltsin gave to him in 1999: "I remember the words of Boris Nikolaevich that the whole country now knows: 'Take care of Russia.'"

"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 added.

As part of the opening ceremony, Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev laid flowers at a monument to the late leader outside the museum and then toured the facilities with Yeltsin's widow and daughter.

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

'Rebel' Yeltsin

A one-time Mikhail Gorbachev supporter turned critic, Yeltsin became the first Politburo member to resign in protest of the government's policies in 1987, leading to his reputation as an anti-establishment politician and a great rise in popularity.

He went on to become the first president of the Russian Federation after the fall of the Soviet Union, and led the country from 1991-1999 before stepping down and nominating his protégé, an unknown spy boss named Vladimir Putin, to succeed him.

Russland, Wladimir Putin und Boris Jelzin

Facing intense political pressure, Yeltsin resigned in favor of his then-prime minister, Vladimir Putin, on the last day of 1999.

The Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center recreates the president's office in the Kremlin, as well as many sites and sounds of the early 1990s- including an empty grocery store after the Soviet collapse and a living room playing Swan Lake on a loop, just as state TV did when Soviet hardliners attempted to retake power in 1991.

One of the many politicians whose interviews can be seen throughout the displays is Yeltsin's former deputy prime minister, Boris Nemtsov, the opposition politician who was gunned down in Moscow in February under mysterious circumstances.

"He was a rebel, Yeltsin," Nemtsov said of his former boss.

Many Russians do not remember Yeltsin so fondly, however, with a poll conducted last December finding that only around 11 percent of Russians viewed him positively, while 40 percent had a negative opinion. Economic troubles and an unpopular military campaign in Chechnya, part of what led to his resignation in 1999, continue to inform his legacy.

es/sms (AFP, Reuters)

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