Of all the obits I’ve read on Yeltsin in the last few days, Mark Taibbi’s “Yeltsin: An Obit of a Drunken, Bloblike Train Wreck of a Revolutionary Leader” captures the man’s life and career best. I think he rightly sums up the Yeltsin period in this passage:
Yeltsin, in other words, single-handedly created a super-gangster class to defend his presidency against an electoral challenge. He had also restored a system of despotic government-by-tribute that had reigned in Russia for centuries, even throughout the worst years of Soviet rule. In Russia there survives a style of leadership dating back to the local Khans of the East in which the leader is a pathologically greedy strongman who takes everything for himself, and then rules by handing out “gifts” to an oligarchy of ruthless underlings devoted to his political survival. Stalin himself, an ethnic Georgian, used to physically re-enact this political style by walking around the room during feasts and breaking off pieces of chicken or hunks of mutton for his more important guests.
Without me, you don’t eat; with me, you eat good. Americans will recognize this form of rule because they see it every Sunday night in The Sopranos. You send the envelope upstairs every week, rain or shine (had a fire? Fuck you, pay me!), and once in a while the boss buys you a Hummer. That was Russia after 1996. Loans-for-shares formalized Russia’s transformation from a flailing Weimar democracy into an organized mafia state; Boris Yeltsin was the Don.
No, and I mean, no punches are pulled in this hilarious article.