Yeltsin criticizes Putin but doesn't regret backing his successor

MOSCOW - Former President Boris Yeltsin chastised Vladimir Putin for responding slowly to the Kursk nuclear submarine disaster, but said in an interview published Friday that he still believes he backed the right man to succeed him.

Yeltsin told the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda that he has been meeting with Putin on a monthly basis to offer advice, which the new president often ignores. The three-page interview was Yeltsin's longest and most thorough since he abruptly resigned last Dec. 31 and the first time he has publicly criticized Putin.

''I believe that the new president should periodically listen to his predecessor,'' he said. ''But I know that Putin will always do it in his own way.''

Yeltsin said he told Putin that he had made a mistake when he failed to immediately interrupt his Black Sea vacation when the Kursk nuclear submarine exploded and sank in the Barents Sea on Aug. 12.

''I openly told Vladimir Vladimirovich that he made a mistake when he stayed in Sochi instead of speaking to the people to offer his explanation and compassion,'' Yeltsin said. ''It was necessary to support the sailors' relatives, try to comfort them and reduce the public tension.''

Putin has said his presence would only have hampered the rescue effort. Yeltsin dismissed the argument. ''In dramatic moments, people expect human compassion from the head of state, not technical advice,'' he said.

Yeltsin also sharply criticized Putin for his proposal to restore the music of the old Soviet anthem as the Russian anthem, a move approved by parliament Friday. Yeltsin said the music symbolizes the communist past, the vestiges of which he tried to shed during his tenure.

He said he now regrets his failure to outlaw the Communist Party and take the body of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin from the Red Square tomb for burial. ''Lenin's body must have been taken out of the mausoleum and put to rest, just as I should have banned the Communist Party,'' Yeltsin said, adding that he failed to make the moves out of fear that they would destabilize society.

Putin has refrained from stating his position on Lenin's burial, but officials have signaled that the plan has been dropped.

While criticizing Putin, Yeltsin also defended him from allegations that the Kremlin was trying to constrain media freedom. ''There is no threat to freedom of speech,'' he said.

Yeltsin also said he appreciated Putin keeping many of his former aides in place and supported the new president's tough stance on the so-called oligarchs, business tycoons who used close ties with Yeltsin's administration to enrich themselves.

Yeltsin singled out for criticism Boris Berezovsky, a media and oil mogul, who has accused Putin of authoritarian tendencies. ''After all, Berezovsky has done more harm than good,'' Yeltsin said. ''Putin has rightly taken a harsh stance on Berezovsky and other so-called oligarchs.''

Commenting on media reports that the Kremlin was evicting him from his former residence west of Moscow, Yeltsin confirmed he was moving to another government dacha, but said it was his decision.


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