Yeltsin prior to a concert marking his birthday (ITAR-TASS)
On the occasion of his 75th birthday on 1 February, former Russian President Boris Yeltsin gave a rare interview to the national network Channel One. Robust and fresh, Yeltsin said he is now physically and intellectually active, and enjoying his current family life.
Yeltsin said that he considers the dismantling of the totalitarian machinery of the Soviet regime to be the greatest achievement of his presidency. His biggest failure, he said, was the inability to make profound reforms in a very short time.
The former Russian leader also spoke about the role of then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in the coup-d'etat organized by some members of the Soviet government in August 1991.
Yeltsin said that Gorbachev was anything but an innocent victim of the plotters. "He [Gorbachev] knew about [the coup] from the very beginning. There is documentary proof. And during the putsch, he was informed [about the plans] and waited the whole time [to see] who will win, these or these. In any case, it was a win-win situation for him," Yeltsin said.
It is the first time that Yeltsin has directly accused Gorbachev of siding with the putschists. The official version of events has always been that Gorbachev was isolated in his Crimean residence of Foros after he refused to authorize the plotters' agenda.
In response, Gorbachev -- who since 1991 has maintained no personal relations with Yeltsin -- told the Italian daily "La Republica": "Yeltsin is trying to denigrate me and, by so doing, [trying] to relieve himself of the grave responsibility for the [signing of the] Belovezh Treaty and other actions [leading to] the disintegration of the USSR."
While Yeltsin and Gorbachev are long-time political opponents, it is the first time they have publicly exchange accusations of this type.
Meanwhile, Russian and Western historians continue to disagree about the role of the two men in these historical events. Most historians, however, agree that the answers lie in the Soviet KGB archives, as this institution was one of the prime movers of the August 1991 putsch.