Prime Minister Tony Blair recalls the Russian leader as an outstanding statesman who realized how much Russia needed democratic and economic reforms.
Javier Solana, a European Union official and former Secretary-General of NATO, thinks that Yeltsin displayed incredible foresight and courage when he decided to sign a hitherto unthinkable agreement on Russian cooperation with the North Atlantic alliance in the early 1990s.
These statements could be summed up in the following words, which the West could write on a wreath to lay at the grave of Russia's first elected president: "We are grateful to you for creating a Russia that no longer scares us." In other words, Yeltsin made Russia look normal in the eyes of the civilized world.
He gave his people three simple, fundamental rights that citizens of civilized countries have enjoyed for a long time. Under Yeltsin, Russians received the opportunity to say what they thought, elect who they liked to major posts, and own private property, be it a house in the Moscow suburbs or a villa in Nice, although the majority could buy the latter only in theory.
Having embarked on the path of democracy and the market economy, no matter how awful it seemed to some initially, the mysterious and dangerous communist-controlled Russia turned into a sensible and understandable country. Russians became more like Westerners. Perhaps at that moment, when differences were swept away, the Cold War came to an end. Credit for this historic accomplishment largely goes to Yeltsin as well.
By the end of his eight-year-long rule, Boris Yeltsin had lost the admiration of his compatriots. His popularity in Russia, but not in the West, had gone down. Well-to-do analysts watching events in Russia from afar thought that nothing tragic was happening. To be more precise, they believed that Russia had to go through its ordeals like any country undergoing a great change.
The West shares our grief because it also understands the greatness of the late Russian president. After all, it was Yeltsin who buried communism and made Russia part of the free world. In history textbooks he will always be remembered as a giant Russian standing on a tank, the man who prevented his country's return to the gloomy era of totalitarianism.
Frank Sinatra once sang "I did it my way." The same words can be applied to Yeltsin. He did it his way, and both Russia and the West are grateful to him for choosing freedom.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.