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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Criticizes, Awards Yeltsin

President Vladimir Putin marked Tuesday's national holiday with veiled criticism of Boris Yeltsin's patchy record on reform, then promptly bestowed an award on his predecessor for services to the nation.

Yeltsin, whose 1999 New Year's Eve resignation catapulted Putin into the presidency, defended his record in one of the longest interviews he has given recently, looking healthier than he has for months.

Putin signed a decree making Yeltsin the first Russian to receive the Order of Merit of the Fatherland, First Grade at a Kremlin reception marking the Independence Day holiday Tuesday.

Yeltsin attended the glittering Kremlin event with his wife, Naina, and the whole political, business and cultural elite.

"Today, we mark the 10th anniversary of the institution of the Russian presidency. This day is a historic day linked to the name of Russia's first president, Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin," Putin said.

June 12 marks Yeltsin's 1991 election as president of the Russian Federation, but also coincides with the anniversary of a 1990 vote by the Congress of People's Deputies setting out Russia's democratic goals within the Soviet Union.

Putin took a swipe at Yeltsin's two-term tenure in office, during which democratic changes were undermined by a helter-skelter dash to a market economy that impoverished millions.

"Everything we endured over the past decade, all our experiences, successes and failures, shows one thing — any reform only makes sense when it serves the people.

"If reforms do not benefit citizens, then they will fail," he said in comments broadcast on state television, adding that increasing their well-being should be the state's main goal.

The two men rarely criticize each other, although Yeltsin condemned Putin's approval of a return to the Soviet national anthem.

Putin also met with a group of prominent members of the arts community and thanked them for playing a role in Russia's strides toward democracy.

Yeltsin, looking far healthier than when he stepped down, appeared in a special 40-minute interview on ORT television, defending his record and commenting on Putin.

He said he had freed the press and begun the reconstruction of Russia. "There were the early steps, but this formed the foundation for the reforms that followed. This foundation was laid during my term in office," he said in the interview.

Yeltsin, who has just returned from a trip to China, said he met Putin about a once a month. "I am glad my trust in Vladimir Putin was justified. He is leading the country along the path of democracy and Russia's authority to grow in the world," he said.

In his earlier address Putin, whose treatment of the press and political rivals has worried Western leaders, also committed himself to "democracy and civic freedoms — they are the essence of society, and have to be fought for every day."

Yeltsin denied reports that he had been trying out traditional Chinese medicines during his two-week vacation in China.